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Who is glad At my torment The beloved becomes a sickness, an adversary who is aware of the torment they cause but offers no respite or relief. There is no hope of recovery so he requests an honourable end from his enemy. Life had been precarious and beautiful and heart-breaking before but something about the scale and speed and random cruelty of the Black Death touched the very soul of humanity during the C14th. The Dance Macabre became a potent symbol in art of the relentlessness of the plague.
Grinning cadavers catch hold of the hands in a vice-like grip, twirling their victims around and around as they drag them down into the waiting pits. The same suggestion of a never-ending, pitiless tempo runs through the song. The poet is caught up in a dance of love that he fears will kill him but he is unable to break free. There is a feverishness and sense of rising panic in the lyrics until he finely begs for a quick death to release him.
Another aspect of the lyrics of Douce Dame relates to constancy and devoted service. This derives from the traditions of courtly love and the troubadors where feudal obligations between men were mirrored in service and unquestioning loyalty to an unobtainable lady. The poets of the Occitaine region usually sang and composed for the courts of great lords and ladies and the troubadors were often drawn from aristocratic circles themselves.
Status was a feature of courtly love because the lady was literally elevated above the poet by her social status as well as by her untouchability. She was raised up on a dais or surrounded by her women; the consort of a powerful liege lord, was removed from the everyday world and her attributes became symbolic of a mystical femininity unknowable to the male observer.
Although courtly love had altered by the time of Machaut, his music and lyrics echo that long tradition of setting the beloved on a pedestal and adoring them from afar. This reflects a quasi-religious quality in secular medieval music which goes to the core of the sentiments being expressed. Just as the mass was an aural expression of the presence of the divine on Earth, so secular music like this piece, reflected an aural contemplation of perfection and timelessness.
Machaut also wrote many pieces of sacred music including his famous Messe de Notre Dame, Mass for our Lady, the first mass which can be attributed to one composer. Divine love and secular love brought together by the same composer and expressed through the vehicle of music. Music as meditation and re-iteration of eternal truths about beauty of form and balance and unchangeable purity. You can hear this in the sounds of Douce Dame just as you do in Hildegaarde of Bingen or Gregorian chant.
It inhabits the same mind-space and touches the same aesthetic regions of the soul despite being grounded in cat gut and wood and human vocal chords and even through the lens of so many centuries it reaches out to us with a message of longing and shared humanity which speaks to something deep inside ourselves. Share this:.
Douce Dame Jolie
Machaut - Douce Dame Jolie sheet music for Piano
Douce dame jolie