Guillaume Du Fay

Robert Nosow

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Guillaume Du Fay

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Guillaume Du Fay (b. c. 1397–d. 1474) was the most important composer in Europe during the fifty years from 1420 to 1470. More is known about his biography than for almost any other composer of the 15th century, in part due to his wide circle of patronage across Italy, Savoy, France, and the Low Countries. His music shows up in numerous music manuscripts from the first three-quarters of the century, many of which are available in facsimile editions. Indeed, his citation by music theorists or poets is rivaled only by John Dunstaple and Binchois before 1440, or by Antoine Busnoys and Johannes Okeghem in the latter stages of his career. Equally at home in Latin and vernacular music, Du Fay pursued an ecclesiastical career that began and ended in Cambrai, in the far north of France. In between were two periods in the papal chapel, as well as service in Savoy and several other courts, marking him as a truly international composer. Du Fay was as famous for his songs, both French and Italian, as for his Masses and motets. His oeuvre displays a constant assimilation or exploration of new ideas, as seen in the Missa Se la face ay pale, one of the earliest four-voice Ordinary Mass cycles, which borrows from the anonymous English Missa Caput. Overall, the music is characterized by melodic brilliance handled with technical and contrapuntal mastery. The publication of the Opera omnia (1951–1966), edited by Heinrich Besseler, brought the great majority of the music into readily available modern transcriptions, facilitating study of the composer. The appearance of David Fallows’s biography Dufay in 1982 (reprinted in 1987) synthesized what was known about Du Fay and brought further attention to the repertory from both scholars and performers. Despite the burst of interest in Du Fay in the last thirty years, much of his music remains relatively unexplored, as questions of ascription and biography have been sorted out, and studies of major sources proceeded. With a few exceptions, most of the items listed are those published since the Du Fay conference in New York in 1974. Because early music scholarship tends toward interdisciplinarity, many of these studies fall into more than one category. Similarly, many publications treat Du Fay in conjunction with other composers, among which only the most germane are included here. The spelling of the composer’s name as “Dufay” prevailed until quite recently, when it was shown that most archival documents, as opposed to musical sources, transmit the name as “Du Fay” or “du Fay.”

Article.  8876 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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