Guillaume Dufay (c.1400 - 1474)
Dufay was one of the most highly regarded composers
of his generation, and one of those principally responsible for
inaugurating the Renaissance in
music. Dufay was born in Cambrai, currently in France, and then in the
Duchy of Burgundy - one of the primary musical centers of the era, and
a highly significant staging ground for the structural principles of the
high Renaissance. He spent a considerable portion of his life in Italy,
in various cities, and so not only contributed to a refinement in the musical
life of bustling Italy, but also brought ideas on lively Italian textures
to the intellectual centers of Northern Europe. Dufay was one of the most
cosmopolitan composers of his or any age,
and his large musical output contains masterpieces
in every genre from cyclic masses
to isorhythmic motets to simply
hymns and dramatic
Dufay's music flows more smoothly than the characteristically complex
rhythmic textures of the late Medieval period, and is marked by graceful
melodies and a compelling sense of direction.
As his career progressed and his fame grew, Dufay increasingly took up
the four-voice vocal texture which was to be characteristic of the early
Renaissance as a whole.
His four cantus firmus masses
are landmarks in what was to become the dominant style of mass composition.
The "Missa Se la face ay pale"
is probably the earliest surviving mass based on a secular theme,
previous cantus firmus masses having been based on liturgical chant.
"Se la face ay pale,"
"Ecce ancilla domini,"
and "Ave regina caelorum"
Today, we value Dufay's music not only for its grace
and invention, but also for its significant historical position
in the quickly evolving style of the early Renaissance. The fact that the
life of so cosmopolitan a character from this period has been preserved
so well in documentation lends invaluable insight on the musical developments
of the time.