Chapter 8. England and Burgundy in the Fifteenth Century

Chapter Outline

 
 

 

In about 1440, French poet Martin Le Franc lauded two composers, Guillaume Du Fay and Binchois, whose beautiful melodies and “new practice of making lively consonance” made their music better than that of all their predecessors in France (see Source Reading, p. 168). He attributed the “marvelous pleasingness” of their music to their adoption of what he called the contenance angloise (English guise or quality) and their emulation of English composer John Dunstable. A generation later, Johannes Tinctoris looked back to these same three composers as the founders of a new art (see Source Reading in chapter 7). The influence of English music on Continental composers in the early fifteenth century has become a central theme of music history of this era, alongside the development of a new international style of polyphony and of the polyphonic mass cycle, both indebted to English influence. In this chapter, we will explore these three themes, focusing on the music of Dunstable, Du Fay, and Binchois, who from their time to ours have been considered the greatest composers of their generation. Along the way, we will examine what English elements were taken over into Continental music, what changes in values this adoption reflects, and what made the music of these three composers so appealing to their age. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. Influence of English Music on Continental Style
    1. The English presence in France
      1. Kings of England held territory in northwest and southwest France.
      2. Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453): England and France fighting for control of France
      3. English rulers brought musicians with them, especially to Belgium and Burgundy.
    2. Contenance angloise (“English guise” or quality)
      1. Tinctoris (HMW Source Reading, page 158) cites Du Fay and Binchois as founders of a new art.
      2. Du Fay and Binchois were the main composers influenced by the English style.
  2. English Music in the Early Fifteenth Century
    1. Characteristics of English music (review of chapter 5 concepts)
      1. Preference for thirds and sixths, especially in parallel motion
      2. Simple melodies
      3. Few dissonances
      4. Syllabic text setting
      5. Homophonic
    2. Polyphony on Latin texts (e.g., HWM Example 8.1, Credo)
      1. Characteristics
        1. Composed for service in the Sarum rite (English liturgy)
        2. Chant voice in the middle
        3. Lowest voice a third below
        4. Top voice a parallel fourth above the chant voice
        5. The result is a stream of parallel 6-3 sonorities.
      2. Faburden
        1. Improvised 6-3 sonorities
        2. There are a few notated examples.
        3. The word might derive from “burden” for the lowest voice and “fa” for the need to use B-Flat, “fa,” in the soft hexachord.
      3. Cantilena
        1. Freely composed piece, not based on chant
        2. Homorhythmic
        3. Streams of sixths alternate with other consonances.
      4. Isorhythmic motets until ca. 1400
      5. Polyphonic settings of Mass Ordinary texts
      6. The Old Hall manuscript (HWM Figure 8.1) is the primary source of fifteenth-century English polyphony
        1. The largest number of pieces are settings from the Mass Ordinary.
        2. It also include motets, hymns, and sequences.
      7. The carol in the fifteenth century (HWM Example 8.2 and NAWM 31, Alleluia: A newë work)
        1. Religious songs in Latin or English
        2. Favorite topics were Christmas and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
        3. Solo and choral sections alternate.
          • Stanzas were all to the same music.
          • Refrain was called the “burden.”
          • NAWM 31 has two burdens.
    3. John Dunstable (ca. 1390-1453)
      1. Biography
        1. Sometimes also spelled “Dunstaple”
        2. The most highly regarded English com poser of the first half of the fifteenth century
        3. Served many noble patrons, including the Duke of Bedford, who was Regent of France in 1422
        4. The English composer most often cited as influencing continental composers
        5. His compositions are preserved chiefly in manuscripts copied on the continent.
        6. His works include settings of the Mass Ordinary, twelve isorhythmic motets, and over twenty other sacred works in Latin.
      2. HWM Figure 8.1 is an isorhythmic motet by Dunstable (Veni Sancti Spiritus)
        1. The tenor voice has the chant melody in isorhythm.
        2. A preference for thirds with fifths and sixths is evident.
      3. Three-voice settings of chant (e.g. HWM Example 8.3, Regina caeli laetare)
        1. The chant melody can be a cantus firmus in the tenor or placed in the top voice.
        2. Rhythmic variety, typical of Dunstable’s style
        3. Melodies by stepwise motion or by thirds
        4. When placed in the top voice the melody is paraphrased, with decorative notes added around chant notes.
      4. NAWM 32, Quam pulchra es
        1. Original music using setting of the words of an antiphon
        2. Each of the three voices is equal in importance.
        3. Homorhythmic
        4. A few streams of 6-3 sonorities lead to cadences.
    4. Redefining the motet (see HWM Figure 8.2)
      1. Previous definition: any work with texted upper voices above a cantus-firmus
      2. Isorhythmic motet
        1. Old-fashioned by ca. 1400
        2. Disappeared by ca. 1450
      3. New definition by 1450: any setting of a chant text, whether the original melody was used or not (e.g., NAWM 32)
      4. From the sixteenth century on:
        1. Any polyphonic Latin-texted piece
        2. Sometimes also applied to music using texts in other languages
  3. Music in the Burgundian Lands
    1. Duchy of Burgundy (see HWM Figure 8.3)
      1. The duke of Burgundy’s influence was nearly equal to that of the king of France.
      2. From 1419-35 Burgundy was allied with England during the Hundred Years’ War.
      3. Burgundy held many territories, including today’s Holland, Belgium, and northeastern France.
      4. Dukes traveled among regional centers rather than maintain a permanent residence.
      5. Chapel
        1. Philip the Bold (r. 1363-1404), the first duke of Burgundy, established a chapel in 1384.
        2. By 1445 the chapel had 23 singers under Philip the Good (r. 1419-67).
        3. Most of the musicians came from Flanders and the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands).
      6. Band of Minstrels (see HWM Figure 8.4)
        1. The musicians were imported from France, Italy, Germany, Portugal
        2. Instruments included trumpets, shawms, vielles, drums, harps, organ, and bagpipes.
      7. Charles the Bold (r. 1467-77)
        1. Amateur instrumentalist and composer
        2. He died without a male heir, leaving much of the duchy to be absorbed into France.
      8. Visits from foreign musicians helped forge a cosmopolitan style, which influenced music in other regions.
    2. Genres and texture
      1. Four principal types of polyphonic composition
      2. Secular chansons with French texts
        1. Rondeaux the most popular
        2. Ballades for special occasions
      3. Motets
      4. Magnificats
      5. Settings of the Mass Ordinary
      6. Three-voice texture
        1. Cantus, spanning a wide range, contained the melody.
        2. Tenor and contratenor within the same range, about a sixth lower
        3. Each line had a distinct role.
    3. Binchois and the Burgundian chanson
      1. Chanson in the fifteenth century
        1. Any polyphonic setting of a French secular poem
        2. Stylized love poems in the courtly tradition
        3. Rondeau (ABaAabAB) was the most popular form.
      2. Binchois (ca. 1400-1460; see HWM biography, page 179, and HWM Figure 8.5)
        1. Known as Binchois, but his name was Gilles de Bins
        2. Before working for the duke of Burgundy, he spent some time in the service of an English earl who was part of the forces occupying France.
        3. Worked for Philip the Good at the Burgundian court, 1427-1453
        4. His works include mass movements, motets, and secular songs.
        5. His works were widely copied and imitated by others.
      3. NAWM 33, De plus en plus
        1. Composed around 1425
        2. Like Dunstable’s, in Binchois’s compositions there is the rhythmic interest within a 6/8 meter, sometimes also employing hemiola (three quarter-notes against the duple division of the meter).
        3. The cantus declaims the text in a mostly syllabic setting.
        4. The tenor is smooth but slower moving, forming counterpoint against the cantus in thirds and sixths.
        5. The contratenor leaps to fill in the harmony.
      4. Cadences
        1. The cantus-tenor relationship moves from a sixth to an octave, sometimes with the additional under-third decorative note.
        2. The contratenor moves from a fifth below the tenor to a fifth above it, giving the modern ear the impression of a dominant-tonic cadence.
  4. Guillaume Du Fay (ca. 1397-1474)
    1. The most famous composer of his time (see HWM biography, page 181, and HWM Figure 8.6)
      1. Traveled widely throughout his career, serving as chapel musician in Italy and southwestern France
      2. His early training was in Cambrai, which he visited often and where he later settled.
      3. His wide travels made it possible for him to absorb many styles and stylistic traits.
    2. NAWM 34, Resvellies vous, 1423
      1. Composed while working in Italy to celebrate his patron’s wedding
      2. Ballade form (aab with refrain)
      3. Ars Subtilior characteristics
        1. Rapid notes in various divisions of the beat
        2. Cross-rhythms between the parts (see HWM Example 8.5)
        3. Dissonant ornamental notes
        4. Too difficult for an untrained singer
      4. Italian elements
        1. Smooth melodies
        2. Melismas on the last accented syllable of each line of text
        3. Meter change for the “B” section
    3. NAWM 36a, Se la face ay pale
      1. Ballade, composed ten years after Resvellies vous
      2. English elements added to the French and Italian traits
        1. The tenor is as tuneful as the cantus.
        2. Phrases are brief.
        3. Consonant harmony, favoring thirds, sixths, and triads (though the term had not yet been coined)
        4. Form is freely composed, not fixed (i.e., not aab).
    4. Fauxbourdon
      1. A style probably inspired by English faburden
      2. Only the cantus and tenor were written out, moving mostly in parallel sixths and cadencing on an octave.
      3. An unwritten third voice sang a parallel fourth below the cantus, producing a stream of 6-3 sonorities.
      4. Used for settings of simpler office chants, such as hymns, antiphons, psalms, and canticles
      5. NAWM 35, Conditor alme siderum
        1. The chant is paraphrased.
        2. Only the even-numbered stanzas were sung polyphonically; the odd-numbered stanzas were sung as chant.
    5. Isorhythmic motets
      1. For solemn public occasions, composers continue to use the then-archaic isorhythmic motet.
      2. Nuper rosarum flores, 1436, was composed for the dedication of the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence (see Figure 8.7).
        1. Two isorhythmic tenor voices, both based on the same chant, reflect the use of two vaults to support the dome.
        2. Du Fay was in the service of Pope Eugene IV, who officiated at the dedication.
      3. Supremum est mortalibus bonum (1433)
        1. Commemorated the meeting of Pope Eugene with King Sigismund of Hungary
        2. Alternates sections in the isorhythm, fauxbourdon, and free counterpoint
  5. The Polyphonic Mass
    1. Until 1420, polyphonic settings of the Ordinary texts were usually composed as separate pieces.
      1. Machaut’s mass was an exception.
      2. Sometimes compilers put movements together into groups.
    2. During the fifteenth century, composers began to set the Ordinary as a coherent whole.
      1. Dunstable and English composer Leonel Power (d. 1445) led the development.
      2. At first only two sections would be linked together.
      3. Eventually all five of the main items were composed as a cycle.
    3. Plainsong mass
      1. Mass in which each movement is based on an existing chant for that text
      2. Machaut’s mass is an example.
      3. Many were written to be sung at a Lady Mass, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
    4. Motto mass
      1. Mass in which each movement begins with the same melodic motive
      2. Called a motto mass when that opening motive (called head-motive) is the primary linking device
      3. Example in chapter 9, Ockeghem’s Missa mi-mi
    5. Cantus-firmus mass (also called tenor mass)
      1. Mass in which the same cantus firmus, usually in the tenor, is the basis for all five movements
        1. The cantus firmus could be a chant or the tenor from a polyphonic secular song.
        2. Sometimes also employs a unifying head-motive
      2. Began in England and became the principal type of mass on the continent by the mid-fifteenth century
      3. Cantus-firmus treatment
        1. When the cantus firmus is sacred the rhythm is usually isorhythmic, as in the isorhythmic motet.
        2. When the cantus firmus is the tenor of a secular song, the original rhythm is used, but not at the original tempo.
        3. When other voices from a polyphonic chanson are also used, the mass is called an imitation mass.
      4. One of the most popular cantus firmus melodies was L’homme armé (The Armed Man), HWM Example 8.7.
      5. Four-voice texture became standardized by the mid-fifteenth century
        1. A part added below the tenor served as a harmonic foundation.
        2. The lower voice was called contratenor bassus (low contratenor) and later simply bassus, now “bass” in English.
        3. The contratenor above the tenor was called contratenor altus (high contratenor), later simply altus, now “alto” in English.
        4. The top voice was called superius (highest), later “soprano.”
      6. Du Fay’s Missa Se la face ay pale (NAWM 36b, Gloria)
        1. The cantus firmus is the tenor of his own earlier ballade (HWM Example 8.6 and NAWM 36a).
        2. The cantus firmus appears three times, but it is only easily recognized in the third appearance because the first two are in longer durations.
        3. At the end of “Amen,” the tenor sings the final melisma from the original tenor, and the other voices borrow from the original as well.
        4. Borrowing in multiple voices makes the work a cantus-firmus/imitation mass.
        5. Du Fay creates variety by contrasting textures of two, three, and four voices.
      7. Popularity of the cantus-firmus mass
        1. Settings of the Mass Ordinary were often commissioned for specific occasions.
        2. Specific cantus-firmus melodies linked the Mass to location or event.
        3. L’homme armé’s popularity may be connected to the Order of the Golden Fleece, an association of knights at the Burgundian court.
        4. Composers proved their compositional skill in this form.
  6. The Musical Language of the Renaissance
    1. Composers working between the 1420s and the 1450s forged a cosmopolitan musical language.
      1. French concern for structure and rhythmic interest
      2. Italian emphasis on lyrical melodies
      3. English preference for consonant sonorities, especially thirds and sixths
      4. These elements continued to predominate in European music through the nineteenth century.
    2. Tinctoris and Martin Le Franc acknowledged the newness of this musical language.
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