John Dunstable  
John Dunstable

John Dunstable, (born c. 1385, Eng.—died Dec. 24, 1453, London), English composer who influenced the transition between late medieval and early Renaissance music.

The influence of his sweet, sonorous music was recognized by his contemporaries on the Continent, including Martin le Franc, who wrote in his Champion des dames (c. 1440) that the leading composers of the day, Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois, owed their superiority to what they learned from Dunstable’s “English manner.”

Information about Dunstable’s life is scanty. He was in the service of the Duke of Bedford, who was regent of France from 1422 to 1435 and military opponent of Joan of Arc. Dunstable probably accompanied his patron to France; his music was well known on the Continent. His epitaph referred to him as skilled in mathematics and astronomy as well as in music.

Dunstable’s influence on European music is seen in his flowing, gently asymmetrical rhythms and, above all, in his harmonies.

  He represents a culmination of the English tradition of full, sonorous harmonies based on the third and sixth that persisted through the 14th century alongside the starker, more dissonant style of continental music.
Dunstable left about 60 works, including mass sections, motets, and secular songs; they are largely in three parts. In the cantus firmus tenors of some of his mass sections he frequently used the continental device of isorhythm (rhythmic patterns overlapped with melodic patterns of different length). In many of his works the treble line, rather than the tenor line, dominates; it may be freely composed, or it may carry an ornamented version of the cantus firmus, an English innovation.
Some of his motets show double structure: building the polyphonic composition on two melodies, a plainchant cantus firmus in the tenor and a melody in the treble that appears with variations. This structure, possibly invented by Dunstable, became popular with later composers.
The musical output of medieval England was prodigious, yet almost all music manuscripts were destroyed during the English Reformation, particularly as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536-1540.

As a result, most of Dunstaple’s work has had to be recovered from continental sources (predominantly those from northern Italy and the southern Alps).
Because numerous copies of his works have been found in Italian and German manuscripts, his fame must have been widespread. Two problems face musicologists of the 15th century: first, determining which of the many surviving anonymous works were written by which composers and, second, unraveling conflicting attributions. This is made even more difficult for English composers such as Dunstaple: scribes in England frequently copied music without any ascription, rendering it immediately anonymous; and, while continental scribes were more assiduous in this regard, many works published in Dunstaple's name have other, potentially equally valid, attributions in different sources to other composers, including Gilles Binchois, John Benet, John Bedyngham, John Forest and, most frequently, Leonel Power.

Of the works attributed to him only about fifty survive, among which are two complete masses, three sets of connected mass sections, fourteen individual mass sections, twelve complete isorhythmic motets (including the famous one which combines the hymn Veni creator spiritus and the sequence Veni sancte spiritus, and the less well-known Albanus roseo rutilat mentioned above), as well as twenty-seven separate settings of various liturgical texts, including three Magnificats and seven settings of Marian antiphons, such as Alma redemptoris Mater and Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae. Dunstaple 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.
He is believed to have written secular music, but no songs in the vernacular can be attributed to him with any degree of certainty: although the French-texted rondeau Puisque m’amour is attributed to Dunstaple in two sources and there is no reason to doubt his authorship, the ballade remained the more favoured form for English secular song at this time and there is limited opportunity for comparison with the rest of his output. The popular melody O Rosa Bella, once thought to be by Dunstaple, is now attributed to John Bedyngham (or Bedingham). Yet, because so much of the surviving 15th-century repertory of English carols is anonymous, and Dunstaple is known to have written many, most scholars consider it highly likely — for stylistic as well as statistical reasons — that some of the anonymous carols from this time are actually by Dunstaple.

Dunstaple was probably the most influential English composer of all time, yet he remains an enigma: his complete works were not published until the quincentenary of his death in 1953, but even since then works have been added and subtracted from his oeuvre; we know very little of his life and nothing of his undoubted learning; we can only make an educated guess at most of the chronology of the small amount of music that has come down to us; and we understand little of his style – why he wrote as he did, what artistic or technical principles guided his composing, how his music was performed, or why it was so influential.

John Dunstable - Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis
Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis
orta in mundo in mulieribus
Florens ut rosa, flagrans sicut lilium,
ora pronobis, sancta Dei genitrix.
John Dunstable - O rosa bella
Produzioni Armoniche: Miho Kamiya, soprano, Nozomi Shimizu, flauti, Marianne Gubri, arpa goticaJOHN DUNSTABLE (ca. 1390 -- 1453), O rosa bella
John Dunstable - Motets - Quam pulcra es
John Dunstable - Motets - Agnus Dei
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