John Dunstable (c. 1380-1453)
Dunstable belongs among those great composers who accept
their stylistic heritage and refine and polish it to a high degree.
If he is distinguished by one quality alone, it is the incredible
sweetness emphasized in his music. Dunstable avoided altogether
the freely handled dissonances characteristic of music in the 14th century.
Careful control of dissonance is an extremely
important feature of his style, which Dufay and
continental contemporaries may well have learned from him. And this
panconsonance, combined with an insistence of full
triads, give to Dunstable's music its characteristically
Like most major figures of the Renaissance, Dunstable composed Mass
movements, motets, and secular
pieces. His motets, which include some of his loveliest and most
immediately accessible music, may be divided into three large categories:
Most of Dunstable's isorhythmic
motets, which are written in praise of a particular saint or of the
Virgin, follow the same general structural outline.
the most complex and elaborate motets, which are isorhythmic;
a few that incorporate a plainsong
into the top voice;
and others, the largest group, which make no use at all of the chant.
All voices, not just the tenor, are isorhythmic, or nearly so.
In most motets, one statement of the complete chant in the tenor involves
two or three repetitions of the rhythmic pattern
the complete pitch-pattern (the "color") is
stated three times in note values that get progressively faster by simple
arithmetical proportion, for example, 3:2:1.