This article examines a group of five ballades which stand at the very opening of those set to music in the Machaut manuscripts. The importance of manuscript order to arguments about chronology has led to the neglect of order's role in the construction of meaning. While they are ostensibly individual lyric items, Machaut's first five music ballades collectively outline a very cogent narrative, from the je-lover's declaration of love to his death from refusal. In parallel with such an amorous progress, there is a poetic and musical progress as the authorial persona of the poet-composer poses and solves problems of formal musical organization, ultimately narrating a parallel (and arguably equally fictive) story of the creation of the polyphonic ballade. The duplication of one of these five ballades within several of the central Machaut sources is viewed as an invitation to read parallels between the opening five ballades in the music section and the opening 11 ballades in the music-less lyric section, the Loange des dames. Between them, the openings of these sections explain the emotional and professional situation of a writer whose very success as a poet-composer almost requires his je's failure as a lover-protagonist.
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