How to be Machaut

Ian Richter

So I’m writing this piece for Ian Richter and Hanna van Rooijen. It’s a saxophone and soprano piece, meant to be performable alongside Lori Laitman’s saxophone and soprano pieces. In fact, that’s how they’re going to premiere it in March of next year while Ian is still on his Fulbright).

And it’s kinda weird. It’s about Machaut, in the act of composition of a rondeau (not to be confused with a rondo). It’s set at about 1350, when the piece, “Rose, liz” was written. It’s sort of a reverse set of variations. Instead of exploring a bunch of weird things you can do to a theme, it shows the process of coming up with the theme itself, bit by bit. It’s not just set in the composition studio, though.

Machaut in 1350 is rich and successful, yes, but he’s still just lived through the black death, which has had some psychological effects, and he’s still technically a priest. That was normal for the time, but it’s a hell of a day job to have competing with your artistic practice.

The piece is going to have scenes of PTSD-driven nightmares, and Machaut delivering a mass while failing to get the idea of the piece he’s trying to write out of his head. At the end, he does, of course, and creates this beautiful little gem of a piece of music that’s stuck with me since the first time I heard it. I’m have a great time exploring how it came to be.

And in the meantime, Ian has a new website you might want to check out.

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