Guillaume DuFay - 'The Greatest Ornament of Our Age'

Project Weeks
2010-08-30 - 2010-09-05

Project Week

30th August - 5th September 2010

in D - Halle (Saale)


Guillaume DuFay


Cantus Modalis


Prof. Dr. Rebecca Stewart,

Martin Erhardt


'The greatest ornament of our age!'


In 1467 Piero de' Medici described the composer Guillaume Dufay (1398/1400-1474) in these words.



Whenever I have the privilege of working with Dufay again I am almost tempted to say 'of any age'. A more imaginative, many-sided, forever young composer (and poet!) would be difficult to find, certainly within the 15th century.




For this reason, as the first project week of the 2010- 11 year of the Center Cantus Modalis my colleague Martin Erhardt and I would like to devote the week between 30 August and 5 September to introducing those of you who may be less familiar with the rich diversity of Dufay's compositional prowess to a stylistic and historical panorama of his musical life.




As the first of the great so-called Franco-Flemish composers Dufay set a very high standard for the following generations: he had exceptional natural gifts in several areas, came from a privileged background, was highly educated and received a formidable musical education from a young age. Due at least partially to the turbulent political and ecclesiastical time in which he lived his particular combination of attributes insured that he be called upon to exercise responsible and varied functions from early adulthood. He traveled widely throughout Burgundy, France and Italy, establishing within a very short time a whole circle of benefactors, both within and outside the church. In the process of his studies - both formal and informal - and his travels Dufay was confronted with what might well have appeared to have been a dauntingly large range of musical styles. Although in origin either secular or religious, French, Italian or English, the international character of that turbulent period automatically resulted in the development of equally mixed musical genres. In a very real way Dufay's period was little different to the age we now live in: full of (foreign) stimuli and very experimental. In order to present a global perspective of his age and his life it has been decided to use one simple antiphon, one great motet and four movements from four famous masses spread over six different historical and stylistic periods as central points of orientation around which influential smaller pieces (be they in the form of chant, motet, antiphon setting or chanson) are 'draped'. In addition, the relationship between this predominantly vocal tradition and its instrumental expansions will be explored in the form of intabulations and improvisations.




A short summary of the program for this project week follows:




1. Period one: French


- Antiphon Ave regina celorum (Laon? ca 1426; a3; a largely faux-bourdon setting)




2. Period two: Italian


Missa Sancti iacobi (Piacenza? 1429-30):


- Introitus Mihi autem nimis (a4/a3; nonisorhythmic; close association between text meaning and compositional choices)


Kyrie cunctipotens genitor (a3/a2; with its Gregorian modal)




3. Period three and five combined: at the court of Louis of Savoy


Se la face ay pale:


- Chanson (1430's; for Anne de Lusignan; a3; text in ballade form; music is throughcomposed)


Gloria (early 1450's? Tenor cantus firmus mass movement; elegant, playful, transparent)


- Buxheimer intabulation: for 2 and 3 instruments


- New instrumental intabulation




4. Period four: Florence, 1436


- Sic placet Credo: Nuper rosarum flores (Dufay's great iso-rhythmic motet composed for the consecration of the great and equally 'iso-rhythmic' Cathedral of Florence on the 23rd of March 1436; a2/a4)




5. Period five: Cambrai 1458+


L'homme armé:


- The original 'folk'song in an improvised polyphonic/diminuted instrumental setting


- Chanson Il sera pour vous conbatu/L'homme armé (Morton? Dufay? Busnois?)


Sanctus (the mass perhaps composed for Dufay's irascible, militarily mad Duke Charles the Bold of the House of Burgundy; very showy; tenor cantus firmus mass)




6. Period six: Cambrai 1470-72


Ave regina celorum


- The Gregorian antiphon


- Antiphon (shortly before 1472; elaborate a4 setting used as primary model for the mass; Dufay's signature 'Miserere tui labentis/supplicanti Dufay' sung by the discantus: meant to be sung at his deathbed)

Agnus dei (probably written for the dedication of Cambrai Cathedral; a2/a3/a4; the most experimental, complex and dense of all of Dufay's masses; the Gregorian antiphon permeates all voices; the polyphonic setting is even parodied!)




7. Back to period two: Piacenza 1429-30


- Communio Vos qui secuti estis from the Missa S. Iacobi (supposedly the earliest completely faux bourdon setting on the continent)




Rebecca Stewart


21 July 2010


All Dates

  • From 2010-08-30 to 2010-09-05
FaLang translation system by Faboba


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