Renaissance Choral Music

Topics: Johannes Ockeghem, Josquin des Prez, Franco-Flemish School Pages: 10 (2591 words) Published: April 16, 2013

The Renaissance spanned across over two centuries, beginning in the opening years of the 15th century and extending through to the 16th century, into the early years of the 17th century.[1] The duchy of Burgundy was a center of “French culture and civilisation”[2] and cultivated music with much vigour. The immense wealth enabled dukes to maintain at Dijon one of the most magnificent courts in Europe. The influence of the Dukes of Burgundy was great during the Renaissance, ruling much of northern France and the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Composers from the Burgundian and northern regions were the most dominant during the Renaissance and made invaluable contributions to music as Gustave Reese discusses in Music in the Renaissance.

Western music as a whole, owing largely to the singular brilliance of the composers originating from northern France and the Low Countries and to the international prestige that led to their being engaged and emulated throughout western and central Europe…[3]

Under the Patronage of Philip the Good, composers like Du Fay and Binchois flourished in the duchy of Burgundy. Johannes Ockeghem, Josquin Des Prez and Orlande de Lassus continued this flourishing of music in the northern region.

The Middle Ages, the preceding period, saw two great musical developments emerging which heavily influenced the Renaissance. One was a strong trend towards measured rhythm and the other was basing polyphony on the third, rather than perfect consonances. The development of rhythm led composers of the “Renaissance art to attain a rhythmic fluidity and complexity that part music has never surpassed.” Development in tonality left the Renaissance to “realise more fully the potentialities of the triad and to regular dissonance.”[4]

Guillaume Du Fay, regarded as “the greatest composer of his time,”[5] was born in Hainault around 1400. As a young boy Du Fay was a chorister at the Cathedral of Cambrai. Du Fay was influential, excelling in all musical genres and presenting a more learned musical style in comparison to the Middle Ages.[6] In 1437 Du Fay commenced his service with Philippe the Good, Duke of Burgundy, from at least 1439 until 1450.[7] Nearly 200 of his works have survived, including 8 complete masses and 84 songs.[8]

Du Fay was very influential in his use of a secular tune for the cantus firmus of a mass as he is known to be the first composer to do this. L’Homme arme, as shown below in figure 1, was one of the earliest secular tunes to serve as cantus firmus. According to Gustave Reese, many others followed Du Fay’s lead.

Masses were to be built on the melody for generations to come by numerous composers, including such masters as Obrecht, Josquin, and Palestrina. A 15th century MS has been found at Naples, containing no less than six anonymous Masses erected on it and preserving one stanza of the secular text. [9]


Figure 1- The L’Homme arme melody[10]

It can thus be concluded, that the highly esteemed Du Fay had a great influence on Renaissance music for many years to come, including the like of Palestrina.

After Du Fay, the most important master was Binchois (ca 1400-1460. Binchois worked for Philip the Good, the duke of Burgundy for 30 years from around 1426 to 1452. At this time “music was in its heyday at Dijon.”[11] In his Grove Online article, David Fallows discusses Binchois place in the cannon of Franco-Flemish Renaissance composers.

Modern critics normally rank him behind his contemporaries Du Fay and Dunstable, for he had none of the legendary influence attributed to Dunstable and far less music than Du Fay. But the extent, to which his works were borrowed, cited, parodied and in tabulated in the later 15th century implies that he had more direct influence than either. [12]

One of the many popular tunes of Binchois that were ‘borrowed’ was De plus en plus,...

Bibliography: Books
Burkholder, J Peter, Palisca, V Claude, Norton Anthology of Western Music, Vol I: Ancient to Baroque, USA: Norton & Co, 1990
Kennedy, Michael. Concise Dictionary of Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Naumann, Emil. The History of Music. London, Paris, New York, Melbourne: Cassel & Company, 1900.
Pesce, Dolores, Hearing the Motet, (New York: Oxford University Press), 1997.
Reese, Gustave. Music in the Renaissance, (USA: Vail-Ballou Press, 1954, USA
Richolson Sollitt, Edna
Russano Hanning, Barbra. A Concise History of Western Music. New York: Norton & Co, 1998.
Fallows, David. "Binchois, Gilles de Bins dit." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, (accessed 13/04/2012)
Lockwood, Lewis
Macey, Patrick. "Josquin des Prez." In Grove Music Online. Oxford music online, (accessed (12/04/2012)
Pryer, Anthony. "Binchois." In The Oxford Companion to Music, ed. Alison Latham. Oxford Music Online, (accessed 10/04/2012)
Journal articles:
Anderson, Rick. “Guillaume Du Fay” Academic OneFile (2008): 378
Brown, Howard Mayer
Kirman, Andrew. “From Humanism to Enlightenment: Reinventing Josquin” The Journal of Musicology, autumn, 1999, 441-458. (Accessed 12/04/2012) URL:
Thomas brothers
[1] Gustave Reese, Music In The Renaissance (USA: Vail-Ballou Press, 1954) 3.
[5] Emil Naumann, The History of Music, Volume II (New York: Cassel & Company, 1900), 308.
[6] Barbara Russano Hanning, A Concise History of Western Music (3rd Ed, New York: Norton & Co, 1998), 111.
[7] Edna Richolson Sollitt, Dufay to Sweelinck: Netherlands Masters of Music, (Connecticut: Greenwood Press Publishers, 1933), 19.
[8] Michael Kennedy, Concise Dictionary of Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) , 212
[9] Reese, Music in The Renaissance, 73.
[12] David Fallows, "Binchois, Gilles de Bins dit," in Grove Music Online, (accessed April 13, 2012),
[13] Hanning, A Concise History of Western Music, 120.
[26] Dolores Pesce, Hearing the Motet, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 213.
[30] J. Peter Burkholder et al, Norton Anthology of Western Music, Vol 1: Ancient to Baroque, (New York: Norton & Co, 1980), 205.
[33] Michael Kennedy, Concise Dictionary of Music, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 411.
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