John Dunstable

From Academic Kids

John Dunstable or Dunstaple (c. 1390December 24, 1453) was an English composer of polyphonic music.

He was probably born in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. His birth date is a conjecture based on his earliest surviving works (from around 1410-1420) which imply a birthdate of around 1390.

Almost nothing is known about his life, except that he died on Christmas Eve 1453, as this was mentioned in his epitaph. He is widely held to have been at the service of the duke of Bedford, the brother of Henry V. As such he may have stayed in France for some time, since the duke was regent of France and governor of Normandy from 1423 to 1429 and from 1429 to 1435 respectively.

Very few manuscript sources of his works survived in England, as is the case for all 15th century composers. Even though England was a center of musical activity, in some regards exceeding even the output of the Burgundian School, almost all of the music was destroyed between 1536 and 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. As a result, most of the work of Dunstable had to be recovered from continental sources. Since numerous copies of his works have been found in Italian and German manuscripts, his fame must have been widespread. He was praised by the French poet Martin Le Franc, who wrote that his contenance angloise ("English guise") influenced Dufay and Binchois.

The contenance angloise, while not defined by Martin Le Franc, was probably Dunstable's stylistic trait of using full triadic harmony, along with a liking for the interval of the third. These are seen as defining characteristics of early Renaissance music, and Le Franc's comment suggests that many of these traits may have originated in England, taking root with the Burgundian school around mid-century.

Dunstable was one of the first to compose masses using a single melody as cantus firmus. A good example of this technique is his Missa Rex Seculorum.

Of the works attributed to him about 50 survive, among which are two complete masses, three incomplete but multi-section masses, 14 individual mass sections, 12 complete isorythmic motets (including the famous one which combines the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus and the sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus), as well as 27 separate settings of various liturgical texts, including three Magnificats and seven settings of Marian antiphons.

Although he is believed to have written secular music, no songs in vernacular can be attributed to him with any degree of certainty. The popular melody O rosa bella, once thought to be by Dunstable, is now attributed to John Bedyngham. Yet because so much of the 15th century repertory of English carol is anonymous, and Dunstable is known to have written many, most scholars consider it highly likely--for stylistic as well as statistical reasons--that many of the anonymous works of this time are actually by Dunstable.

External links

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