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Douce Dame Jolie (Lady Fair and Sweet)

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Douce Dame Jolie (Lady Fair and Sweet)

One of the most famous musical pieces of the Middle Ages, "Douce Dame Jolie" sometimes referred to only as 'Douce Dame', is a song from the 14th century, by the French composer Guillaume de Machaut. It is an example of the genre known as the virelai, one of the fixed formes of the fourteenth century (the others were the ballade and the rondeau). This is a relatively early work of Machaut's, dating from the time of his patronage by John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia.

Douce Dame Jolie

The word "Virelai" comes from old French and means ”the beauty of music, dance and poetry”. It probably did not originate in France, and it takes on several different forms even within the French tradition. Similar forms can be found in most of the literatures of medieval and early Renaissance Europe. The standard virelai form has three stanzas, each preceded and followed by a refrain. Each stanza is in three sections, the first two having the same rhyme scheme and the last having the rhyme scheme of the refrain.

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Guillaume de Machaut

 

Most scholars believe Guillaume de Machaut was born c. 1300 in or near Reims, perhaps in the town of Machault or the nearby village of Cauroy de les Machaut. Nothing is known for certain about his family or social status, except that he had a brother, Jean, who like him became a canon of Reims cathedral. He probably received his early education in Reims, and he may have received a master of arts degree from the University of Paris, but the evidence for that degree is weak.

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Douce Dame Jolie

 

By about 1323 he had entered the service of John, king of Bohemia, working first as a clerk but eventually rising to the rank of secretary. With the king he apparently traveled extensively. Through the influence of John of Bohemia he received several church benefices, culminating in a canonicate at Reims cathedral.

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King John of Bohemia

 

Whether he settled in Reims around 1340 or decades later, Machaut owned a house in that city by 1372. The house no longer stands, but its location near the cathedral has been identified, and it appears to have been fairly large, with a courtyard and garden. This suggests that he and his brother, who shared the house, had some means. Machaut died around 1377: we don’t have the exact date, but his canonry was given to another man on 9 November 1377, so it must have been earlier that year.

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Reims Cathedral

 

Machaut seems a poet and a musician in equal measure, one of only a handful of figures to show equal mastery of these arts. He is frequently portrayed today as an avant garde composer, especially because of his position with regard to the early Ars Nova (a new, more detailed rhythmic notation), but one must also emphasize the masterful continuity with which he employed established forms. While using the same basic formats, he made subtle changes to meter and rhyme scheme, allowing for more personal touches and a more dramatic presentation.

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Guillaume de Machaut

 

The theme of courtly love dominates his writing, becoming heavily symbolized in the guises of such characters as Fortune & Love, and the personal dramas in which they act. Machaut's poetic output, and by extension the subset of texts he chose to set to music, is both personal and ritualized, lending it a timeless quality. Some of the love themes date to Ovid and beyond, from whom they had been elaborated first by the troubadours of Provence and then by the northern trouvères, and so it is truly a classical tradition to which Machaut belongs.

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Douce Dame Jolie

 

The poetry follows courtly themes of his time, and the image of Douce Dame Jolie is a wonderful, easily approachable example. For our age, this will seem a simple love song. But to Machaut’s contemporaries it would have been understood to have the carefully constructed double sense of courtly love, a reference simultaneously to an affair of the heart and the adoration of the Virgin Mary. “All the songs that I composed I did in praise of her,” Machaut writes.

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Guillaume de Machaut

 

Machaut marks the end of the lineage of the trouvères, and with it the development of the monophonic art song in the West. What Machaut achieved so eloquently is an idiomatic and natural combination of words with music, forcefully compelling in its lyrical grace and rhythmic sophistication. His songs are immediately enjoyable, because he was able to shape the smallest melodic nuances as well as to conceive forms on a larger scale.

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Douce Dame Jolie

 

Machaut – Douce Dame Jolie lyrics


Douce dame jolie,
Pour dieu ne pensés mie
Que nulle ait signorie
Seur moy fors vous seulement.

Qu’adès sans tricherie
Chierie
Vous ay et humblement
Tous les jours de ma vi
Servie
Sans villain pensement.
Helas! et je mendie
D’esperance et d’aïe;
Dont ma joie est fenie,
Se pité ne vous en prent.

Douce dame jolie…

Mais vo douce maistrie
Maistrie
Mon cuer si durement
Qu’elle le contralie
Et lie
En amour tellement
Qu’il n’a de riens envie
Fors d’estre en vo baillie;
Et se ne li ottrie
Vos cuers nul aligement.

Douce dame jolie…

Et quant ma maladie
Garie
Ne sera nullement
Sans vous, douce anemie,
Qui lie
Estes de mon tourment,
A jointes mains deprie
Vo cuer, puis qu’il m’oublie,
Que temprement m’ocie,
Car trop langui longuement.

Douce dame jolie…

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Douce Dame Jolie

 

English translation


Lady fair and sweet
for god’s sake do not think
that any has rule
over my heart, but you alone.

For always, without treachery
Cherished one
I have you, and humbly
All the days of my life
Served
Without base thoughts.
Alas, I am left begging
For hope and relief;
For my joy is at its end
Without your compassion.

Lady fair and sweet….

But your sweet mastery
Masters
My heart so harshly,
Tormenting it
And binding
In unbearable love,
Desires no more
but to be in your power.
And still, your own heart
renders it no relief.

Lady fair and sweet….

And since my malady
Will not
Be annulled
Without you, Sweet Enemy,
Who takes
Delight of my torment
With clasped hands I beseech
Your heart, that forgets me,
That it mercifully kill me
For too long have I languished.

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Reims Cathedral

 

 

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