Guillaume Dufay

Guillaume Dufay

also Du Fay and Du Fayt, (* shortly before 1400 in or with Cambrai [?]; † 27. November 1474 in Cambrai) was a Franco-Flemish composer, singer and music theorist of the early Renaissance.

Portrait of a man
Guillaume Dufay

Of the composers of this Burgundian (“Franco-Flemish”) school, he was probably the most important personality of that epoch. Born in the area of Cambrai in northern France, he spent several years in Italy (in Rimini, Bologna, Savoy and Rome, where he sang in the papal chapel) and undertook extensive journeys. Thus he was the right man to bring about a fusion of the late medieval style of his French homeland and the early Italian Renaissance with its literary and humanistic associations. Dufay’s approximately 200 surviving works include several completely preserved mass compositions, individual mass movements and other sacred works, motets and numerous secular songs, mostly with French text. All his sacred music is vocal, although it is possible that instruments were used to amplify and replace vocal parts.



Perhaps the most striking peculiarity of Dufay’s music is its relative directness when compared with the complexities of some of the late Gothic works that preceded it. Although Dufay’s compositions are by no means lacking in technical quality, many of his works are initially striking for their predominantly melodic character.Two musicians talking

Dufay’s genius reached his peak in the field of sacred music, but he was also one of the most important composers of polyphonic chansons in the 15th century. His around eighty surviving works of this kind cover a broad spectrum and show a new, flexible approach to the common song forms of the Middle Ages, such as the Rondeau and the Ballade. Most of Dufay’s chansons are early works; some of them can be dated precisely because they are associated with political or social events. His range of musical expression was very broad, and his compositional technique was based on the text of the work and the occasion on which it was composed.

The great importance of Guillaume Dufay lies in the fact that he was the first to fuse musical elements of art music from the traditions of France, the Netherlands, England and Italy. In this way he created a musical language that was binding for high art music throughout Europe for a long time. He is the outstanding figure of early Franco-Flemish music. His tendencies towards a polyphony that was fundamentally binding for the musical development of Europe were pursued by the following generations of this music, for example Johannes Ockeghem, Jacob Obrecht and Josquin Desprez, and reached their provisional conclusion in the work of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso.


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