Guillaume Du Fay

Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance (Cambrai, circa 1400 – Cambrai, 1474)

Guillaume Du Fay is a Franco-Flemish composer and priest of the 15th century. Succeeding in the French, Italian and English schools, he initiates the so-called Franco-Flemish School, which will lead to the style of polyphonic vocal music.

He receives a thorough training in music at the Cathedral of Cambrai around 1409; Cambrai is a renowned city, because the majority of the Vatican's musicians were trained there. Guillaume collaborates with composers Nicolas Grenon and Richard Loqueville. After his studies, he travels all around Europe, especially to Italy, composing his first motets. These travels will mark music with cosmopolitan eclecticism: warm harmonies, symmetric phrases and varied mélodies.

His works cover all genres - masses, motets, chansons - and they also reveal innovative techniques such as singing with his mouth closed, a technique similar to fauxbourdon. In addition, he introduces secular music within the same mass, such as his mass based on L'homme armé, composed around 1460 drawing inspiration from a popular song. Occasionally Du Fay uses four voices, thanks to the introduction of a leading motive, or through a melodic formula that connects the different pieces.

In the history of polyphonic masses, Du Fay’s contribution is vital and will be a model for the next generations. Thus, the influence of Flemish polyphony remains constant until the late 16th century - and Guillaume Du Fay, a real pioneer, skillfully brings the musical world of his time towards early Renaissance music.

5 landmark dates in the life of Guillaume Du Fay:

• 1428: he becomes a member of the Papal Choir, and is ordained priest

• 1436: he becomes a canon at Cambrai

• 1437: Du Fay meets Gilles Binchois

• 1451: he receives a reward “because of his virtues and qualities, by means of which he has enriched Cambrai with his music”

• 1458: he returns to the cathedral of Cambrai to retire, until his death in 1474

5 key works by Guillaume Du Fay:

• 1425: Je me complains, ballade

• 1431: Ecclesie militantis, motet, five voices

• 1436: Nuper rosarum flores, motet , four voices