Antoine Busnois: Missa O Crux lignum triumphale

As we continue our journey through the 15th century, we feature another famous Catholic composer of the Burgundian School, who like Guillaume du Fay, led a renaissance in Sacred Music in the use of polypony, while conserving a profound sense of the Sacred. In this piece for the Mass, O crux lignum triumphale, we find the entire ordinary of the Mass put to music. Busnois’ style inclines more to the style of popular music than Du Fay, but still is founded upon the tradition of Gregorian Chant.

Little is known of Busnois. His name suggests that he was born in the village of Busnes, near the Pas du Calais, and may have been of the noble family of that town. We know for certain that by 1461 he was a chaplain at Tours. He was a hot head and was involved in a riot where he and 5 others beat a priest to a pulp on 5 separate occasions. On another occasion he simulated a mass, while not yet a priest, and was excommunicated, until Pius II remitted the penalty.

By 1465 he was a subdeacon at the collegiate church of Saint Martins, at tours, where he struck up a friendship with another composer known in that age, Joannes Ockeghem. He moved to Tours where he became famous as an instructor of choir boys, a profitable profession for the poor of the middle ages. But then, as quickly left, and joined the service of Charles, Duke of Burgundy, til 1482, even accompanying the Duke on military campaigns, as a court composer and singer. He died at Bruges, in 1492, while serving at the Church of St. Sauver. Thankfully, his corpus of compositions have largely survived, with more than 100 pieces being known by name.

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