Historiated initial accompanying hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Source: Compendium morale of Roger de Waltham (d. 1336). Unknown artist. Location: University of Glasgow Library.
Guillaume de Machaut continues to be acknowledged to this day as the most significant French poet and composer of the fourteenth century [I wrote about him here: Sunday Feature: Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-1377): – Messe de Nostre Dame – Ensemble Gilles Binchois dir. D. Vellard | Saturday Chorale – mfi]. He was both a poet and a musician and it’s no exaggeration to say that he dominated French poetry and music for several generations after his death. His four-part setting of the Marian motet Inviolata Genetrix (Virgin mother) is a typical Marian intercessionary motet of its period in which the Virgin, who was seen as a more approachable figure than Christ, is asked to protect her devotees to intercede for them in the dire straits in which they find themselves:
"help us decisively for we perish, we are violently attacked but are feebly defended,"
(The reference is to the ravages of the 100 years war). It’s an unusual piece of music that sounds very unfamiliar to modern ears but which repays the effort made. It’s also unusual amongst Machaut’s motets firstly because it is a four-part setting (motetus, triplem, contratenor and tenor) with contratenor and tenor singing the same text, and secondly because it’s in Latin and Machaut set mostly French secular texts. Enjoy :-).
Guillaume de Machaut (±1300-1377): Inviolata Genitrix
Inviolata genitrix, Superbie grata victrix Expers paris, Celestis aule janitrix, Miserorum exauditrix, Stella maris Que ut mater consolaris, Et pro lapsis deprecaris Humiliter, Gracie fons singularis Que angelis dominaris. Celeriter Para nobis tutum iter, Juvaque nos viriliter Nam perimus, Invadimur hositiliter Sed tuimur debiliter, Neque scimus Quo tendere nos possimus, Nec per quem salvi erimus Nisi per te; Eya! ergo poscimus Ut sub alis tuis simus Et versus nos te converte.
Virgin mother, beloved conqueress of pride without peer. Door-keeper of the heavenly palace, you who hearken to the prayers of the wretched, star of the sea, you who comfort like a mother, and you who intercede for our sins with mildness, fountain of singular grace and ruler of angels, quickly prepare a safe journey for us, help us decisively for we perish, we are violently attacked but are feebly defended, nor do we know where we may turn, nor by whom we may be saved if not by you; ah! therefore we pray that we may come under your wings and turn you towards us.
Performers: Hilliard Ensemble
If you liked this performance you might enjoy these posts as well: