Guillaume Dufay



Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) was one of the most important representatives of the first generation of Flemish Polyphony. Even during his lifetime he was an influential composer: his music being copied frequently and performed in Cambrai, to Florence and throughout Western-Europe.


Dufay was born in Beersel but soon moved to Cambrai in France, where he began singing in the Notre Dame de Cambrai Cathedral choir. His musical talent was quickly noticed and he received an elaborate musical education. In 1420 Dufay left for Italy, in Pesaro he composed for the house of Malatesta of Rimini. In 1426 he was working in Bologna, in service of the cardinal when he himself was appointed priest. Two years later Dufay left for Rome and sang in the renowned papal choir until 1433. Due to a crisis in Rome he traveled to Savoye to temporarily work as a chapel master, but in 1435 he returned to Italy to serve at the papal chapel in Florence. Here he composed for the prominent d’Este family in Ferrara. Later he also worked in Turijn and French Chambéry before relocating to Cambrai indefinitely in 1458. By this time he was famous throughout Europe.  

Multifaceted composer 

Dufay wrote both ecclesiastical and secular music, mostly for three-part vocals. His repertoire consists of 7 complete masses, 28 separate mass segments, 3 Magnificats, 2 arrangements of the Benedicamus Domino, 15 antiphons, 27 hymnes, 22 motets and 87 chansons.    

On the picture, Guillaume Dufay is depicted with the organ.

Cantus firmus

Most of Dufay’s works are based on a single pre-existing melody, e.g. a Gregorian cantus firmus or a secular melody. In his masses, a fixed cantus firmus even serves as the foundation for all 5 ordinarium parts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). With this he formed the basis of the cyclical mass. Dufay was the first to use secular texts as a starting point of the cantus firmus, as he does in his famous Missa se la face ay pale and Missa L'Homme armé.

Motets and secular music

Of his motets, 13 are written in the old isorhythmic style, generally for four-part vocals. An example is the well known Nuper rosarum flores, written for the opening of the Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence in 1436. Secular music written by Dufay generally followed well known forms prevalent at that time – rondeau, virelai and ballad.

Vocal works (selection)

  • Missa L’Homme armée, four-parted.
  • Nuper rosarum flores, four-parted.
  • C'est bien raison de devoir essaucier, three-parted. You can find the manuscript from the Bodleian Library, Oxford here.


Nuper rosarum flores by Huelgas Ensemble conducted by Paul Van Nevel, 2011 (Harmonia Mundi)
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