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The Rise of Choral Polyphony in Burgundy

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  1. Introduction
  2. Roots of polyphony
  3. Effects of the new style
  4. The main representatives
    1. Guillaume Dufay
    2. Gilles Binchois
    3. Johannes Ockeghem
    4. Antoine Busnois
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works cited

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there was a flourishing of culture in the Netherlands with the rise of humanism and the patronage of the Dukes of Burgundy. With the advances in trade and commerce, there was also a general prosperity which contributed to the wealth of artistic endeavors. This extra capital the Netherlanders spent not only on domestic genre paintings for their walls, but also aural stimulation in the form of music. Visitors to Antwerp commented on the omnipresence of music, whether in processions, churches, or flowing out of windows to the pleasure of passersby on the street. Netherlandish music was not just important in the homes of the middle class, however, it was indispensable in the courts of nobles and kings, and Franco-Flemish composers of the time were sought after by rulers from the Pope to the Kings of France. Such composers as Guillaume Dufay, Josquin des Prez, Johannes Okeghem, and Orlando di Lasso were among those in Netherlandish school who were instrumental in the rise of choral polyphony; they were the indisputable leaders of the style in their time and contributed invaluably to the development of Western music.

[...] These two developments went hand in hand, for in fauxbourdon compositions, the cantus firmus is found in the topmost voice or superius rather than the tenor, [14]and it was this melody which was incorporated into all the parts of the mass to achieve unification.[15] Dufay worked in both Italy and France, employed by the Burgundian court, but is most closely associated with the cathedral of Cambrai. He was proficient in both sacred and secular music and was actually known as a poet as well as a composer. [...]


[...] This period marks the end of Franco-Flemish leadership in the world of music and the rise of the great Italian composers, as well as the Spanish school of Church composers.[49] It is interesting that the Italians, who are commonly most associated with polyphony, were in fact inheriting the style from Flemish composers who had come to work in Italy. It is to them that we owe the birth of the madrigal; the Franco-Flemish composers were the vital link that helped music to break out of the Church chanting tradition and give it a direction in which to develop through the Renaissance into the Baroque and beyond. [...]


[...] Arthur Jacobs, A Short History of Western Music (London: Penguin Books, 1972) 56. Isorhythm is characterized by the repetition of identical rhythmic patterns called taleae usually stated several times in the tenor. Ulrich and Pisk 110. Bukofzer 273. Ignace Bossuyt, Guillaume Dufay and Burgundy insert, trans. Paul Rans, De Vlaamse Polyfonie series, (Leuven: Davidsfonds/Eufoda, 1995) 11. Jacobs 55. Ulrich and Pisk 113. Ulrich and Pisk 114. Ulrich and Pisk 118. Ibid. Edward Wickham, Ockeghem: Missa Caput insert (London: Proudsound, 1998) 1. [...]

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