Guillaume de Machaut - Le Jugement du roi de Navarre


Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377)
"Le Jugement du Roi de Navarre" (1349)
Ballades, Virelais, Motets & Textes dits 

Ensemble Gilles BinchoisDominique Vellard 
Anne-Marie Lablaude
Brigitte Lesne
Akira Tachikawa
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Pierre Hamon
Randall Cook
Jean-Paul Raccodon (narrator)

"Choc" du Monde de la Musique
"10" de Répertoire
"Un événement exceptionnel" de Télérama
"Recommandé" par Classica

Guillaume de Machaut, who was born around 1300, inaugurates that not well known, not well loved period, Middle Ages of the Middle Ages, taking the term in its pejorative positive acceptation, which has unfortunately become more used. Somehow, this period has suffered the fact of being located between the classical Middle Ages (we now use the term in its positive acceptation), Xllth century, and the Renaissance. We all know the changes in the greatness and decadences of the literary history. It would be better to say, like Johan Huizinga, "Autumn" of the Middle Ages. This vision correspond better to the melancholy feeling that was normal in that time (1).

From this perspective, Guillaume de Machaut articulates new and old art, ars antiqua and ars nova, "vielle et nouvelle forge", to use his words in the Remède de Fortune (2). But Machaut is much more than that. According to his disciple Eustache Deschamps, he was "noble poète et faiseur renommé", bigger than Ovidio, of the lineage of Orpheus. In fact, like Orpheus, Guillaume de Machaut is a poet-musician, "un mondain dieu d’harmonie" (3).

Given this essential union between poetry and music, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois proposes us a Jugement du Roi de Navarre underlined by the poet's musical pieces. This is what Machaut himself would do in his dits with musical interpolations, such as Remède de Fortune or Le Voir Di ! (4).

Le Jugement du Roi de Navarre is a narrative text, "un dit", inscribed in the genre of debate, a continuation of a former text of the poet, Le Jugement du Roi de Bohême. The question posed is the following : the lover of a lady is dead, and a knight has been betrayed by his lady. What is worse? The King of Bohemia had chosen the latter. Discreet misogyny. The lady Bonneürté complains the poet for this judgement, who decides to intervene in the discussion.

Vez la Guillaume de Machaut, says the lady, c’est uns homs a cui il ne chaut / A tort ou a droit soustenir (This is Guillaume de Machaut / a man for whom saying the truth or lying is the same). The poet keeps with the King of Bohemia’s position : the betrayed knight. But this time the King of Navarre, who acts as Judge, condemns the composer to a poetic amendment : he must compose a lay "sans tenson" (without debate), a chanson balladée (this is a virelai) and a ballade. The not harmonious tenson is resolved with music, the "musique de bouche en proférant paroules metrifiees", according to the definition of poetry given by Eustache Deschamps in his Art de dictier (5).

Le Jugement du Roi de Navarre is a puzzling work due to the contrast between the "judgement" part developed from verse 541, and the introduction, a very complete description of the troubles of the time. The text is under the sign of melancholy and Autumn, beginning with the fading song of birds au departir du bel esté (at the end of the beautiful Summer). There is a cosmic disorder (eclipse, comet, rains of blood, earthquakes). Meteorological (rain, cold, wind, thunder), social (wars), even familiar. Of this great disorder (grande desordenance) God takes revenge on sending the pest. We are in 1349. The members of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois make us listen to two extraordinary motets by Machaut on similar themes. Underlining the texts admirably recreated in the voice of the narrator Jean-Paul Raccodon : Plange regni / Tu qui gregem tuum ducis [4] and Fons totius superbie / O livoris feritas [6].

The second part of the text talks about the problems of love and the relationship between women and men. On the other hand, the song for the "return to the world", that welcomes the end of the epidemic and makes the poet recover from his illness is a song of marriage : Et tan qu’une fois entroy / Dont moult forment me resjoy / Cornemuses, trompes, naquaires / Et d’instruments plus de set paires (when one day I heard something that made me happy/Bagpipes, horns, percussions and more than seven pairs of instruments!). New agreement of men, symbol of hope and returned harmony. The poet is in peace with himself and with the world under the sign of sweetness and song. It is Spring time, des oisillons les chans / Qui estoient melodieus (of the birds the songs / merry and melodious) are heard. But one of the paradoxes of Le Jugement is this : the poet, in opposition to what happens in all his lyric output, does not appear as a lover. He is a clerk (nor villain nor knight) who studies at night (de nuit, en estudiant, veille) and devotes himself to chivalrous activities by day : hunt. And this occupation distracts him from the service to the ladies, and he never sees the lady, Bonneürté, a metaphor. Like Perceval, who immersed in his contemplation did not answer Gawain, the poet does not answer the lady's servant. But Perceval's contemplation was of a loving nature, and Guillaume's was not, profane distraction out of the religion of love. It is this clerical misogyny what the lady reproaches the poet, who has blamed disloyalty on ladies, on Eve. The question itself is a condemnation to women. We can see the lady surrounded by her 12 maiden, and the poet, both exchanging examples and stories in a significative chiasmus. The ladies defend the courtly position with examples like the story of Hero and Leandro. The poet has opted for the clerical position and insists on contemporary examples, like the one of the loyal lover who cuts his finger because he had sworn he would never take it off the ring his lady once gave him and now he must return.

Through this discussion, the poet studies the possibilities of the lyric writing. He does without the ladies' losange (critic), the mesdit (malicious remarks), preferring the louange (praise), joy and song. This is why the text derivates in a poetical "amendment". It is like a long detour that, having solved the problems of the world, can open to song, exactly like, after having been in its cage, the bird recuperates freedom and sings again. Lyric poetry manifests in this way the harmony of world and contributes to re-establish it wherever it is menaced. Moral and curative virtue. There is in Le Jugement a medical who proposes to call some minstrels in order to cure a young lady who has the illness of love. Opposite to this, the song of the Flagellants at the beginning of the poem, song of disagreement, is a heresy for the poet.

Festive and regenerating, music is at the same time renewal and re-creation. It brings the harmony of world, music of the spheres, of the elements and of the seasons, to which the harmony of the man responds. It is love in the moral, health is the physical, and concord in the social domains. To the harmonies of the world and the man responds, according to Deschamps' definition, the natural music, the poetry, and the artificial music, that of the instruments. The Ensemble Gilles Binchois invites as to this union.

© Jacqueline Cerqulglini -Toulet
Professor of Medieval Literature, Paris University La Sorbonne, Paris IV. France

Ensemble Gilles binchois, Dominique Vellard


It was in the choir of Notre-Dame de Versailles, where he sang as a child, that the main lines underlying all his musical activity became clear to Dominique Vellard. His choirmaster, Pierre Béguigné, trained at the Niedermeyer School, passed on his passion for Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, the French masters of the 17th century, organ music and Bach chorales. After an obligatory stint at the Versailles Conservatory, he soon found himself confronted with a new manner of interpreting Baroque music, led by the generation of "harpsichordist-conductors" of the 1970s. 

Interested by the way that the interpretation of the Baroque repertoire was being called into question, but somewhat alarmed by the presumption of the participants in this evolution, he preferred to devote most of his activity to the interpretation of music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance that fascinate him and in which he is free to express his aesthetic choices. Aware that professionals and listeners alike aspire to more personal readings of these repertoires, he now strives for a more lyrical and contrapuntal interpretation of 17th and 18th century music.

The Gilles Binchois Ensemble

Founded in 1978, bears the hallmark of a group dedicated to the discovery and interpretation of music from the Middle Ages. Unaffected by fads or fashions, the group has remained completely loyal to its objectives, which include close study of the various repertoires (especially French) and of their relationship with music of the oral tradition, study of different types of notation, and an attempt to achieve the vocal and instrumental tones appropriate to these repertoires. The Ensemble has deliberately chosen to accept only those engagements which fit in with the goals it has set itself, devoting the time required for research and preparation of the programs offered. This self-imposed discipline may have slowed development of the group's public image, but it has fostered the maintenance of extremely valuable contacts and privileged relationships with musicologists, instrument makers and record companies who have nourished and stimulated the group's creative work. In the course of the last ten years, the arrival of numerous specialized artists of different nationalities has enriched the quality of the Ensemble. The Gilles Binchois Ensemble has received public recognition throughout Europe as the result of its recordings, tours and concerts (Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Switzerland as well as Hungary, Baltic Countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia with the help of the Association Française d'Action Artistique and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). In France, the Ensemble is subsidized by the Conseil Régional of Burgundy and the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles of Dijon.

for this album the vocalists of the Gilles Binchois Ensemble are :

Anne-Marie Lablaude, Vocalist
Brigitte Lesne, Vocalist, Harp and Percussion
Akira Tachikawa, Vocalist
Dominique Vellard, Vocalist and Guiterne
Emmanuel Bonnardot, Vocalist, Medieval fiddle and Rebec
Pierre Hamon, Recorders, Bagpipe and Medieval transverse flute
Randall Cook, Medieval fiddle and Recorder
Jean-Paul Raccodon, Narrator


chanson roial :
Joie, plaisence et douce norriture   (instrumental)
ballade :
Tres douce dame que j'aour
texte dit :
"Un po apres le temps d’autonne..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
motet :
Plange regni respublica - Tu qui gregem tuum ducis
texte dit :
"Et tout einsi com je cuidoie..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
motet :
Fons totius superbie - O livoris feritas
texte dit :
"Et quant Nature vit ce fait..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
virelai :

Puis que ma dolour   (instrumental)
texte dit :

"Si que ces tempestes cesserent..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)

Kyrie de la Messe de Nostre Dame

texte dit :

"Si que tres bien me confessay..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
virelai :
J’aim sans penser   (instrumental)
ballade :

Esperance qui m'asseure
double ballade :
Quant Theseüs - Ne quier veoir
texte dit :

"Damoiselle, la traïson de Theseüs..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
ballade :

Honte, paour, doubtance   (instrumental)
texte dit :
"Adont commensa Souffissance..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
ballade :

Nes que on porroit
texte dit :
"Quant leur consaus fu affinez,..."   (le Jugement dou roy de Navarre)
ballade :
Amours me fait desirer


The Composer Guillaume de Machaut is, no doubt, a favourite medieval composer for all audiences, but even so his poetical and musical output is still not well represented in the discography. In this case his extraordinary poem The Judgement of the King of Navarre is presented together with a dazzling selection of
motets, ballades and virelais whose expressive immediacy take us to the fascinating world of the XIVth century.
With a discography of more than 40 discs and an international prestige achieved thanks to the countless awards received from the critics wordlwide, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois celebrated its 20th anniversary  chosing one of the longest and most beautiful poems by Machaut. The alternance of the reading (we prefer to say performance) of the poems, by an unsurpassed master like Jean-Paul Raccodon, with the different musical pieces performed in vibrant, intense and passionate readings by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, has a disturbing effect. All the strength of Machaut's terrifying description of the Black Death years finds it perfect balance in the music chosen here; on the other hand, the delicacy of the love scenes is underlined by music of ravishing beauty : the powerful a cappella performance of the motets is quite unique, the poetry and sensuality of the ballades have rarely found more inspired performers, and the radiant vitality of the virelais becomes an impressive feast of rhythms, sounds and colours of startling beauty. To the quality of one of the best records ever made by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois we must add the immaculate sound achieved by the engineer, to make of this edition a real treasure of medieval music. - Lawo Classics, Norway

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