Guillaume Dufay was born in Cambrai, France and became one of the most famous composer's of his time in Europe. His style of composition was influenced by John Dunstable and the contenance angloise or "sweet English style" (Bonds 2013). He later worked in the Cambrai Cathedral, affecting the types of compositions he produced. Because of this position, he wrote several important masses.
Historical Context of Composition:Edit
This piece was written in an era where Franco-Flemish composers dominated the musical sphere. The genre of this piece, a cyclic mass, is a common defining style of Franco-Flemish masses. A cyclic mass is a unified polyphonic setting of the entire Mass Ordinary, where each of the five parts have a unifying element, commonly a melodic theme. The cantus firmus mass could be made up of a pre-existing chant or secular song. "Missa Se la face ay pale" was written based off of a three voiced, polyphonic ballade entitled "Se la face ay pale." The mass was most likely written around twenty years after the original composition for the court of Savoy in the 1450's (Bonds 2013).
This particular composition by Dufay fits into the early Renaissance style for several reasons. The basis of the piece is the previously discussed polyphonic ballade, a secular love song, which was common for cyclic masses in the early Renaissance. The cantus firmus appears in every movement of this mass, thus the term unified. However, the fact that the mass is based off of a love song was not common for this time period. This was what may be called revolutionary and became more and more popular throughout the rennaisance period. Melodic motives are established and reused throughout the piece. There is an added voice under the tenor, which was a defining characteristic of this style period. All voices are singing the same text, also common for the music in the early Renaissance. The lowest voice in the piece is less of a drone and more active in the composition. The melody and text is transferred among all four of the voices. The piece is more smooth, with a lyrical quality and less sudden dissonances that were common in the Medieval period. The text itself and the use of Latin indicate the setting of a Mass Ordinary. The influence Dunstable had on Dufay is seen in the sweet style, employing both thirds and sixths and a more closed chordal structure. Cadences are commonly filled with the added third, moving away from the open fifths and octaves found in the medieval period.
Another commonly known work by Dufay is "Nuper rosarum flores." There are both similarities and differences between this piece and Missa Se la face ay pale. A large difference is the genre. "Nuper rosarum flores" is an isorhythmic motet, a slightly dated or older genre for the early Renaissance (Golden 2010). The motet contains two tenors, similar to the two lower voices in the mass. The talea is restated four different times, each in a different meter, creating a mathematical proportion of 6:4:2:3, showing a concern with mathematical principles that older pieces were concerned with (Golden 2010). As for the similarities, even though the isorhythmic motet was considered somewhat of a dated genre at this point, Dufay still utilizes Dunstable's sweet English style, incorporating more of both thirds and sixths.
I chose this piece because it was an important, trend-setting work for the early Renaissance that we had not discussed in class. It was trend-setting in that it was one of the first masses to use a secular love song as its compositional basis. Masses were not heavily covered in class, and I wanted to learn more about them. The primary aspect of the piece that I found interesting was all the compositional characteristics of Dunstable in this work.
Brodersen, Fritz (editor). Missa Se la face ay pale. Creative Commons Attribution. http://imslp.org/wiki/Missa_Se_la_face_ay_pale_(Dufay,_Guillaume)
"Dufay: Missa Se La Face Ay Pale- Kyrie & Gloria/ The Hilliard Ensemble." YouTube video, 12:07. Posted by "Benjamin Itoh," upload December 23, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOS81FeXGUY
Mark Evans Bonds. A History of Music in Western Culture. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall, 2013.
Rachel Golden. (2010, September) Renaissance Period. Musicology 210. Lecture conducted from University of Tennessee, Knoxville.