Multimodality and Memory in the Mise en page of Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass

  • Kate Maxwell
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Guillaume de Machaut’s mass survives in only five manuscripts, which all form part of the surprisingly homogeneous ‘complete works’ set of Machaut manuscripts. In this contribution, I argue that the details of mise en page in these manuscripts are reflective both of scribal memorial processes and multimodality in action: in this work where one of the major modes (image) is absent, the musical notation itself takes on an additional aesthetic role, that of visual beauty. In these manuscripts, the mass takes its place within the music section, surrounded there by lays, motets, virelais, and rondeaux, these surrounded (or preceded) by courtly ‘dits’ and lyrics not set to music. Four of these five manuscripts are illuminated, and all provide musical notation: all, therefore, are overtly multimodal.

Despite the lavish illumination in the manuscripts, the mass is never adorned with a miniature, nor is it mentioned in Machaut’s ‘Prologue’ to his works. The aesthetic beauty of the mise en page of the mass, therefore, is derived from the musical notation, while the text-music setting shows a distinct divide between the two contrasting compositional techniques of the mass.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kate Maxwell
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TromsøTromsøNorway

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