Guillaume Du Fay: Missa Ecce ancilla Domini

This week we peruse the repertoire of Sacred Music from the 15th century. We begin with this piece by Guillaume Du Fay, his, Missa Ecce ancilla Domini, written in honor of Our Lady.

Du fay had a colorful life. Born as a bastard of a priest at Cambrai (now France); he was raised by his mother and, having shown exceptional musical talent, received the help of many clerics who gave him an excellent musical formation. He obtained a benefice as a chaplain at the age of 16, at Cambrai, traveled to Contanz for the Ecumenical Council held there 1415-1418. Returning to Cambrai, he was made a subdeacon at the Cathedral, where he served two years. Then he spent four years traveling in Italy and working as a musician for the Nobility. Worn out by travels he returned home for two years, beginning in 1426.

He then traveled to Bologna, in Italy, and was taken under the patronage of Cardinal Louis Aleman, the papal legal. He was ordained a deacon, and then a priest at Bologna.  He fled Bologna in 1428, when it rebelled against the Pope, and went to Rome where he entered the service of Popes Martin V and Eugene IV. There he became the most famous musician in Europe of his time. When the forces of Conciliarists drove Pope Eugene from Rome and set up a temporary republic, he accepted invitations to courts from all over Europe.

He was the court composer for the Duke of Savoy in 1434, and returned to the service of Pope Eugene IV at Florence in 1435. When the schismatic Council of Basel deposed Pope Eugene IV, he fled to Turin and got a degree in law and then returned home to Cambrai, where he obtained a position as Canon of the Cathedral in 1440.

From 1452 he traveled Italy seeking the patronage of the Nobility, writing and composing music to pay his way. In his final years, he returned to and remained at Cambrai, where his fame drew students of music and composers from all of Europe to collaborate with him. He completely revised the musical  books used by the Cathedral and set in motion the rise of sacred polyphony for the next generation.

He died on Nov. 27, 1470, and as he passed requested that his motet, Ave Regina Caelorum be sung. Thus died a great servant of Our Lady and the Church.

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