French-Flemish composer; born ca. 1400; died 1474 in Cambrai, northern France.
Dufay was one of the most influential composers of his time, helping to bring music into the Renaissance. He provided a bridge between the medieval musical forms before him, to the styles which were to predominate with the Burgundian school. In particular, Dufay is credited with notable contributions to the development of the four-voice choral form and of the use of counterpoint.
Dufay was born near Cambrai, in northern France (and in those times a part of the Duchy of Burgundy). As a young man, Dufay received his musical training as a chorister with the cathedral at Cambrai. Dufay spent a considerable amount of time in Italy, first in the service of the Malatesta family, headed by Prince Carlo Malatesta. After a return stay in his homeland, Dufay returned to Italy to serve with the papal choir from 1428 to 1433. Subsequently, Dufay worked for a number of ruling families in Italy. There is no doubt that Dufay both influenced and was influenced by the musicians in Italy. Setting a pattern for many leading musicians and composers from his region, Dufay finished his career by returning to his native Cambrai, where he served as canon of the cathedral at Cambrai until his death.
Dufay's music is said to be a synthesis of several influences: the French music of Guillaume de Machaut, the harmonic modernity of the English school (John Dunstable in particular), and the Italian music that he experienced in his extensive travels. Dufay is not regarded so much as a musical innovator--most of his compositions in a certain style sound very much alike--as he is a master craftsman who unified and clarified several of the musical trends of his day. 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. He was one of the first composers to show proficiency with four-part vocal harmonization. His four cantus firmus masses "Se la face ay pale," "L'homme arme," "Ecce ancilla domini," and "Ave regina caelorum" are landmarks in what was to become the dominant style of mass composition. The mass "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. Dufay worked in older forms as well, but did so with an slant towards the evolution of those forms: he wrote numerous, straightforward chant harmonizations while working for the Papal Choir. However, in these the older organum style was now turned upside down, with the chant appearing in the highest voice, rather than the lowest. Dufay is also known to have written plainchant as well.
In all, Dufay is credited with having written 76 motets, 9 masses, and a requiem. (The requiem is the first known of the kind. Unfortunately, it has been lost.) Some of the motets were of the older isorhythmic motet variety, an Ars Nova form. His isorhythmic motet Nuper rosarum flores, was performed at the dedication of the Brunelleschi dome in Florence in 1436. (This is one of the earliest examples of the Renaissance tradition of linking the performance of musical pieces with public events, helping to tie together music with the Renaissance art and architecture in a very direct way.) His motet O très piteulx / Omnes amici, a lament for the fall of Constantinople in 1453, was probably sung at the extravagant Banquet of the Oath of the Pheasant given by Duke Philippe the Good of Burgundy at Lille in 1454, when an attempt was made to raise a Crusade to free the old Eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Regarding the masses, Dufay was one of the first composers to attempt linking the cycles of the mass together musically.
Dufay also wrote a considerable quantity of secular music. He wrote more than seventy chansons, setting verses in the fashionable forms of the time, the ballade, the virelai and rondeau. The conciseness, spontanaiety, and boldness of expression of his compositions distinguished them most clearly from the previous generation's. However, like the chansons of Guillaume de Machaut before him, they focused mainly on themes of love and devotion. They were basically conservative in poetic form, and featured achingly flowing harmonies.
- Classical Net - http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/dufay.html - Todd McComb
- http://www.france.diplomatie.fr/culture/france/musique/composit/dufay.html (translated by Google)