Tuesday, January 4, 8400

Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474)

Franco-Flemish musician-theorist Guillaume Dufay (Du Fay, Du Fayt, left above, apparently about to slap five with buddy Giles Binchois) (August 5, 1397?/1400?, c. Beersel, near Brussels - November 27, 1474) was the central figure in the Burgundian School, and the most famous and influential mid-1400's European composer, a perception that has continued since. His music was copied, distributed and sung everywhere that polyphony had taken root, all the more impressive considering that this was just prior to the availability of music printing.

He was the illegitimate child of a priest and Marie Du Fayt, who moved with him to Cambrai early on, staying with a relative who was a canon of the cathedral. Dufay's talent was noticed by the cathedral authorities, who gave him thorough training. He studied with Rogier de Hesdin in the summer of 1409, and was listed as choirboy from that year to 1412, studying with Nicolas Malin, receiving a copy of Villedieu’s Doctrinale in 1411,

In June 1414, at 166, he had been given a benefice as chaplain at St. Géry, adjacent to Cambrai. Later that year he probably went to Konstanz, perhaps staying until 1418, before returning.

From November 1418 to 1420 he was a subdeacon at Cambrai Cathedral, leaving again in 1420 for Rimini, and possibly Pesaro, working for the Malatestas.

The ballade Resvellies vous et faites chiere lye, was written in 1423 for the marriage of Carlo Malatesta and Vittoria di Lorenzo Colonna (Carlo was a son of Malatesta dei Sonetti, Lord of Pesaro -- Vittoria was the niece of Pope Martin V).

The form is aabC for each stanza, with C being the refrain, emphasizing passages in the text which specifically refer to the couple being married.

Unter the Malatestas he met the composers Hugo and Arnold de Lantins, who were among the house musicians. In 1424 Dufay again returned to Cambrai, this time because of the illness and subsequent death of the relative canon benefactor.

By 1426, however, he had returned to Italy, now Bologna, where he worked for Cardinal Louis Aleman, becoming a deacon and, by 1428, a priest. Cardinal Aleman was driven out by the rival Canedolis that year, along with Dufay, who left for Rome, joining the Papal Choir, in service of Pope Martin V and, after 1431, Pope Eugene IV.

In 1434 he was appointed maistre de chappelle in Savoy, where he served Duke Amédée VIII; evidently he left Rome due to a crisis in papal finances, and to escape the uncertainty of the struggle between the papacy and the Council of Basel, which led to Eugene being driven out of the city.

Most of Dufay's motets were relatively early works, having been written by this point for specific occasion (rather than liturgical use) and he seems not to have written any during the last 30 years of life. They are complexly isorhythmic (isorhythms even occurring in all the voices), harkening back to medieval usages.

In 1435, Dufay was again in the the papal chapel, relocated to Florence, where, the next year on March 25, Dufay composed the festive motet Nuper rosarum flores, sung at the dedication of Brunelleschi's dome of the cathedral in Florence, Eugene's place of exile. This work, like others
was carefully contrived to have a symbolic value, in this case with proportions supposedly exactly matching those of Solomon's Temple. Dufay probably took part in this performance, and an eyewitness account attests to the presence of numerous string and wind players, who filled the chamber with their sounds during the impressive ceremony.

In this time Dufay also began his long association with the d'Estes in Ferrara, with whom probably had become acquainted during the days with the Malatestas (Rimini and Ferrara are close, and the two families were related by marriage). Dufay composed at least one ballade for Niccolò III, Marquis of Ferrara, and visited in 1437. When Niccolò died in 1441, the next Marquis maintained contact with Dufay, continued financial support, and copied and distributed music.

The papal struggles continued through the 1430's: Eugene was deposed in 1439 and replaced by Duke Amédée of Savoy himself, as Pope (Antipope) Felix V.

With all this, Dufay returned to his homeland that year, arriving in Cambrai by December. In order to be a canon at Cambrai, he needed a law degree, which he obtained in 1437. He may have studied at Turin University in 1436. One of the first documents mentioning him in Cambrai is dated December 27, 1440, when he received a delivery of 36 lots of wine for the feast of St. John the Evangelist. A lot of wine, indeed.

Dufay remained in Cambrai through the 1440s, and served the Duke of Burgundy.

By this time he was writing in most of the common forms of the day, including masses, motets, magnificats, hymns, simple chant settings in fauxbourdon, and antiphons within the area of sacred music, and rondeaux, ballades, virelais (the latter three the formes fixes that dominated secular European music of the 1300 and 1400's) and a few other chanson types within the realm of secular music.

He also wrote a few Italian ballata, no doubt while he was in Italy; as with the motets, many secular pieces were written for specific occasions.

Most of his songs are for three voices, dominated by the highest, with the lower voices untexted, likely played by instruments. Occasionally Dufay used four voices, but sometimes the fourth was supplied by a later, usually anonymous, composer.

Typically he used the rondeau form when writing love songs. His later secular songs show influence from Busnois and Ockeghem, and the rhythmic and melodic differentiation between the voices is less.

Dufay wrote seven complete masses, 28 individual Mass movements, 15 settings of chants used in Mass Propers, three Magnificats, two Benidicamus Domino settings, 15 antiphon settings (6 Marian), 27 hymns, 22 motets (13 sorhythmic) and 87 chansons.

At the beginning of Dufay's career, the cyclic mass was in its infancy. By the end of his career, the cyclic mass had become the predominant and most substantial form of sacred music composition in Europe.

Dufay's first complete cyclic masses, the Missa sine nomine and the Missa S Jacobi, were written before 1440, and contain possibly the earliest use of fauxbourdon, featuring harmonizations in parallel fourths and sixths. Most early mass compositions used the "head motif" technique.

Many of Dufay's compositions were simple settings of chant, designed for liturgical use, likely substitutes for unadorned originals, again, often in fauxbourdon, as in the Marian antiphon Ave maris stella:
The top and bottom lines are freely composed; the middle "fauxbourdon" line, parallels the top a perfect fourth below. The bottom part is often, but not always, a sixth below the uppermost voice, embellished and reaching cadences on the octave.

Dufay's mother died and was buried in the cathedral in 1444; and in 1445 Dufay moved into the house of the previous canon, which was to remain his primary residence for the rest of his life.

Two years later, Dufay re-used Nuper rosarum flores as part of the coda of his last isorhythmic motet, Fulgens iubar, in 1447.

After the abdication of the last antipope (Felix V, his own former employer Duke Amédée VIII of Savoy) in 1449, the struggle between different factions within the Church began to heal, and Dufay once again left Cambrai for points south.

He went to Turin in 1450, shortly before Amédée's defath, but returned to Cambrai later that year, returning to Savoy in 1452, absenting his homeland for six years.

By this decade, Dufay's masses were much influenced by "the English countenance" (i.e., the music of John Dunstaple); masses now mostly used cantus firmus technique, and isorhythm, as in his motets, in a more seamless contrapuntal technique with occasional imitation, a style which foreshadowed the work of Obrecht and Ockeghem.

Dufay attempted to find benefice or employment which would allow him to stay in Italy. Numerous compositions, including one of the four cantus-firmus Lamentationes (O tres piteulx/Omnes amici eius, the only surviving, c. 1454-1457) that he composed on the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and his famous mass based on Se la face ay pale. A letter to Lorenzo de'Medici also survives from this period.

However, unable to find a satisfactory position for his retirement, he returned north in 1458.

Upon his return in his final years, he was appointed canon of the cathedral, by now the most renowned composer in Europe. Once again he established close ties to the court of Burgundy, receiving many visitors, including Busnois, Ockeghem, Tinctoris, and Loyset Compère.

Missa "Ave regina", based on his Marian antiphon of 1463, uses all of the mass techniques Dufay used during his career, and may have been written as a deliberate summation. Indeed, all Dufay's late masses are tenor masses, with the cantus firmus is in the aforesaid part, a connected with the Endland of Leonel Power and Dunstable, but reaching back to Machaut.

Another Marian antiphon, Alma Redemptoris Mater begins as a simple rising pseudo-C-Major scale (from the chant's original suspicious F major), and unfolds in the three-voiced texture described above.

Another disarming piece is his Fanfare "Ad Modum Tubae", as performed on David Munrow's Instruments of the Medieval and Renaissance on two Buisines (Wooden Trumpets).

In this period Dufay probably wrote his Missa "L'homme armé," (although it has been dated as early as 1453), as well as a chanson on the same song.

The former features a delayed tenor cantus firmus in the opening Kyrie, as well as a wild Agnus Dei III, with the cryptic notation the "crab proceeds full and returns half." As a crab canon proceeds in retrograde, so the motive unfolds initally in reverse, speeding up to return (i.e. in forward motion) at double speed.

The latter chanson on L'homme armé, may have been inspired by Philip the Good's call for a new crusade against the Turks, who had recently captured Constantinople. Dufay also wrote a Requiem mass c. 1460, now lost.

The composer died on November 27, 1474, after an illness of several weeks. He had requested that his motet Ave regina celorum be sung for him as he died, with pleas for mercy interpolated between verses of the antiphon, but time was insufficient.

Dufay was buried in the chapel of St. Etienne in the cathedral of Cambrai; his portrait was carved onto his tombstone. After the destruction of the cathedral, the tombstone disappeared, but resurfaced in 1859, after being used to cover a well, and is now in a museum in Lille.

The Dutch towns of Amsterdam and Eindhoven, and the small Scottish town of Linlithgow all have streets named after Dufay, who is also memorialized by the early music ensemble Dufay Collective.

[8400 Romania / 8400 Dufay / 8400 Binchois]