Machaut: Christe que lux est / Veni creator spiritus / Tribulatio proxima est

Listen to the work here.

Edward III
Toward the end of his life, Machaut, wrote a handful of motets in Latin (much of his composition is in the vernacular). It is likely that these motets were written in response to the great political turmoil that characterized the period of their composition.
The Hundred-Years War had been dragging on for quite some time when after a truce between France and England, the King of England, Edward III, crossed the sea and laid siege to Machaut's city, Rheims, (map) with the intention of being crowned King of France at Rheims cathedral, the traditional site for the cronwing of the French monarchy. Edward's army arrived on the outskirts of the city in early December 1359 and staged a blockade through the rough winter and into late January of the following year. Charles, the king of France decided to let the English exhaust themselves in a siege while the French armies stayed passive. He sent a letter to the citizens of Rheims, telling them to:
"guard well and defendŠ yourselves and your city against our enemies; by which we will perceive clearly your great loyalty and very good and true love that you have for Monseigner, for us and for the crown of France."
Sieges at the time ended usually with the entire population being put to the sword. Rheims ran out of food, and plague broke out. As a canon at the cathedral, Machaut would have been compelled to stay in the city. One can imagine the fear and privation. Eventually Edward would grow tired of the siege and set off to pillage Burgundy. Incidentally, among the English troops at Rheims was Machaut's great English contemporary, Chaucer, who was held hostage and later released for a ransom of approximately $4,000.
For the curious, a timeline of the Hundred Years War can be found here.

Things to Note
The work is structured with an untexted introduction followed by two sections. The sections are characterized by a change in the speed of the isorhythmic parts (the two lower voices): the second section the lower two parts are performed at twice the speed that they were in the first part. I have laid out in the listening chart where the melodic and rhythmic schemes change. In listening however it is interesting to note how the change in the rhythmic and melodic schemes makes no impact on the sound of the work as a whole, it merely exists in the abstract. Indeed, the changes occur at points that seem little different from the rest of the work.
The tenor comes from the plainchant for Psalm 21 (full text), notable for it's opening, later used by Christ during the crucifixion, "My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me?" the other two texts reference well-known hymns. In the case of the first text, Christe, qui lux est, a Compline hymn sung during Lent which stresses protection and comfort, and in the case of Veni Creator Spiritus, a hymn sung on Vespers at Pentecost and very popular with the people of Rheims. The first text calls for Christ to come down and save the just as he had done to Daniel, the three children in the Burning fiery furnace and Abacuq. The second relates to similar circumstances but dwells more on the suffering of the individual. The third text takes an authorial voice and relates that trouble is near. Taken together the three texts address their petition to all aspects of the Trinity: the cantus firmus to the Father, the Motetus to the Holy Spirit and the Triplum to the Son. In the end they all end in a plea for peace.
In all the texts there is a literal biblical meaning and an allegorical meaning related to the situation at hand. Each of the texts are in first person plural which means that they are relating of the suffering of a group, rather than an individual. Such pleas by proxy were commonplace in the Middle Ages,often you find it in reference to pilgrimage: e.g. so-an-so undertakes a pilgrimage to clear a particular city of the plague. Together they function as a plea for peace from the people of Rheims.

Listening Chart

Machaut: Christe que lux est / Veni creator spiritus / Tribulatio proxima est (1360?)

Untexted: [Chri - ste?] 0:00 Introduction: Entrance of Superius voice in archaic liturgical style.
Untexted: [Ve - ni?] 0:27 Introduction (cont.): Entrance of Altus voice in counterpoint.
Untexted 0:43 Tenor and Contratenor enter to cadence Introduction

Christe qui lux est / Veni 0:56 Beginning of First rhythmic scheme (talea)
Posse tuum / Veni, propera 1:30 Beginning of Second Talea.
Nec tueri / [no - ] bis dant vecordia 2:05 Beginning of Third Talea

Et adire nexu / [ignora - ] mus, Quid agere 2:39 Beginning of Fourth Talea
a te segregas / [predo - ] nes: Leopardi 3:14 Both talea and color (melodic scheme) end. Rhythmic and melodic cycles begin again at double-speed.


Christe, qui lux est

Christe, qui lux es et dies
fideliumque requies
nos visita.
Tu furoris temperies
tu dulcoris planiities
nunc excita.
posse tuum precipita
depredentes qui nos ita
Sicut per te fruit vita
patribus nostris reddita,
qui tunc erant
nec tueri se poterant.
Sed ad te reclamaverant,
Deus fortis,
sie cave,
ne nos atterant
qui nos in guerris
nunc subortis.
Et adire nexu mortis,
cuius sumus jam in portis,
nos pretegas.
Gentem serves tue sortis,
tui fratis ac consortis
causam regas.
Qui malos a te segregas
nec justis opem denegas.
Legis lator.
proditores nunc detegas
horumque visum contegas.
Danielis visitator
pueroumque salvator
in fornace,
per Abacuth confortator
sis pro nobis preliator
et dimittas nos in pace.

Veni Creator Spiritus

Veni creator spiritus
flentium audi gemitus,
quos nequiter gens misera
destruit; veni, prospera,
jam nostra virtus deficit
nec os humanum sufficit
ad narrandum obprobria
que nobis dant vecorida,
diviso, cupiditas
fideliumque raritas.
Unde flentes ignoramus
quid agere debeamus.
Circumdant nos inimici,
sed et nostri domestici
conversi sunt in predones:
leopardi et leones,
lupi, milvi et aquile
rapiunt omne reptile,
consumunt nost carbunculi.
Ad te nostri sunt oculi,
perde gentem hanc rapacem,
Jhesu, redemptor seculi,
et da nobis pacem.

Tribulatio proxima est

Tribulatio proxima est
et non est qui adjuvet

Christe, qui lux est

Christ, you that are light and the day
the faithfuls' rest
come back to visit us.
You that alleviate thhe fury,
you that spill the sweetness,
awaken us,
impose your power
to the vandals who
offend us.
Thanks to you,
life was returned to our fathers
who, previously, lived
unable to relax.
But they addressed you
strong God.
In te same way, prevent
that we are thrown on the ground
by those that
tear usin wars
that they provoked.
And, in the embrace of death
of which we are so near,
protect us.
Even on those of your condition,
take your brother's party
and the party of your companion.
You that move away from you the mean
do not refuse your support to the just.
You the legislator
unmask traitors
and defend the reputation of the just.
You the comforter,
who has visited Daniel,
who saved children
in the furnace.
In the name of the comforter of Abacuq
be our defender
And let us leave in peace.

Veni Creator Spiritus

Come, creative Mind,
hear the moan of the tearful
that amiserable people maliciously
destroyed; come, precipitate you!
already our strengths decline
no human voice is enough
to tell the shame
that bring the fury,
the derision, the cupidity,
the lack of men with faith.
Also, we cry and
know not what to do.
Enemies surround us,
even those near to us,
become brigands,
leopards and lions,
wolves, vultures and eagles,
snakes, rob all,
scabs gnaw us.
Our faces turn toward you,
annihilate this people of birds of prey.
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
and give us your peace.

Tribulatio proxima est

Tribulaiton is close at hand.
and there is no one to aid us.