Composer: Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)

Piece: Hareu! hareu! le feu/Helas!/Obediens

Date: 1355

Form: Secular/Isorhythmic motet

Texture: Polyphonic

Form: Based on rhythmic ostinato pattern: short-long-long-long-short

Repetitions of ostinato: 6 in very long notes, 6 in diminution (half as long)

Texts: 3 different texts (2 French, 1 Latin)

The secular motet came to full flower in the art of Machaut. He expanded the form of the preceding century to incorporate the new developments made possible by the Ars Nova, especially in the greater variety and flexibility of rhythm.


Since the three simultaneous parts have different texts, the listener is expected to follow the general idea rather than the individual words. The top voice, the triplum, sings a poem on a favorite theme of 14th century verse; the suffering of a lover who is consumed by his desire. At the same time, the middle voice, the duplum, sings a different poem in the same vein. The tenor is taken from a plainsong Gradual that refers to Christ, but Machaut chooses only one section that goes with the words obediens usque ad mortem (obedient even unto death), a sentiment appropriate to the chivalric love described in the other poems.


The notes
of this cantus firmus are arranged in a rhythmic pattern that is repeated again and again. This identifies it as an isorhythmic motet (iso means “the same”) and the repeating rhythm is known as an ostinato. It could be sung or doubled or replaced by an instrument. On this recording it is played on a slide trumpet (an early type, with a single slide rather than a double like the trombone). The upper two voices move much more quickly in a compound triple meter.