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Guillaume Dufay Essays

The fifteenth century marked a time in human history where art, philosophy and science were making major advancements; out of these three, the arts were where the spirit of the Renaissance achieved its sharpest formulation. It was considered a form of knowledge and valuable in its own right, used to explore human consciousness and thought through expression in all kinds of medium, as well as give light to the spiritual realm. This value placed in the arts allowed for much progress and development in musical genres, instruments, composing styles and music theory, most notably by early fifteenth century composer Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474).

Guillaume Dufay was a master of varied musical genres and a style of French poetry and melodic lyricism that were unfounded until this era. Dufay was born as an illegitimate son in what is present day Belgium, probably in Beersel, close to Brussels. He was educated at a cathedral school in Cambrai in northeastern France and was quickly made to be a choirboy because of his musical talents. He was very well traveled, taking trips to places like Italy, Savoy and Germany often.

It was from his travels and constant studying of music that he was able to get a firm grasp on all of the current and historical forms of music that were available at that time. Dufay borrowed from the French and Italians before him and the contemporary composers of the day that were English and Burgundian. He incorporated all of these styles of music in his own creations and would often juxtapose two contrasting styles in one piece. It is from this observation and incorporation of past and present styles that made Dufay out to be the most internationally acclaimed composer of the fifteenth century.

Guillaume Dufay wrote music for varying dedications, events and church services. In total he wrote seven complete masses, 28 individual Mass movements, 15 settings of chant used in Mass Propers, three Magnificats, two Benedicamus Domino settings, 15 antiphon settings (6 are Marian antiphons), 27 hymns, 22 motets (13 are isorhythmic) and 87 chansons. The music he wrote for church often included and embellished on old Gregorian chant adding rich textures by the use of harmonies, most often in three voices.

Although inherently simple in themselves, Dufay’s additions to these plainchants show his gift for beautiful melodies and harmonic direction. Dufay’s style in writing his masses is a complex & angular isorhythmic technique with a more fluid & straightforward hymn writing. From these enhanced plainchants we can see the increased role of liturgical polyphony in this period. He did not keep his style strictly church bound and also wrote a large collection of secular music. His secular music mostly followed the formes fixes (rondeau ballade, and virelai), which were very prevalent in Europe at this time as well as a few Italian ballettes.

Many of Dufay’s secular songs were written for specific events, which gives us a very accurate idea of where and when the songs were made. Most of his secular music is written in three parts, with a few exceptions, and are written mostly for the highest voice while the lower two voices would be most likely played by instruments. Later in Dufays career he started writing pieces for four voices and started to move towards the fifteenth century smooth polyphony showing off his mastery and leading in contemporary music.

Guillaume Dufay’s Missa Se la face ay pale: Gloria was one of his sacred pieces and was written to be performed during the catholic mass. This particular piece shows off a lot of different harmonic ideas and Dufays ability to blend different international styles of music. He composed the music to fit to the text, ignoring previous tradition of the fourteenth century ballade (aab). The French influence is seen in his use of syncopations and an angular contra tenor line with quite a few large leaps. The English influence can be seen in the frequent use of thirds and sixths and relative equality between cantus and tenor melodies4.

The piece was written in a time period where music was in a transition period between the harmonic and melodic cadences of the past and modern cadential material4. The Tonal center of this mass appears to be F with C being a major focus in the piece as well, especially if one is following the tenor line. Placing this borrowed Tenor line into the mass allowed Dufay to place F in the Tenor Bassus as the root of the chord. The occasional B-flat also helps to establish F as the tonal center as well. Measure 19 (shown above) is where we first see the introduction of the melody that will be repeated later in the song (bar 49 and then 83).

Each note value is three times longer than the original note value from the Ballade. It is hard to recognize at first hear because of the increase in note value but as the melody reappears it becomes gradually more recognizable. Also in this example you can see a small amount of how the superius line has a constantly changing rhythm throughout the entire piece, which was typical of Du Fay and commented on by music enthusiasts at the time5. Each voice in Missa se la face ay pale has a different layer and acts melodically and rhythmically by itself5.

The tenor line is what the rest of the voices are written around and provides the framework for the piece. The bassus often joins up with the tenor line to create a harmonic foundation for the top lines. The top lines move mostly in smooth stepwise motion with the occasional leap or skip and sometimes echo each other (1-4). Dissonance is not very prevalent in this piece but when it does occur it is usually a suspension or passes by quickly. All of the dissonance is dealt with and properly resolved throughout the work. Looking at Missa Se la face ay pale: Gloria it is easy to tell why Guillaume Dufay was the most prominent composer of his day. He had a seemingly universal style and his new innovations ushered in a new age of music.

Bibliography

Hamm, “Guillaume Dufay” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 11/1/2011 accessed Tuesday October 23rd 2012 Planchart, Alejandro: "Guillaume Du Fay", Grove Music Online ed. L. M accessed Tuesday October 23rd 2012 Roberge, Pierre-F. http://www. medieval. org/emfaq/composers/dufay. html Accessed Monday October 22nd 2012 “Guillaume Dufay” http://www. naxos. com/person/Guillaume_Dufay/26014. htm accessed Sunday October 21st

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