Composer: Guillaume Dufay (1400?-1474)

Piece: Alma redemptoris mater

Date: 1440

Form: Sacred Motet

Subject: Honors the Virgin Mary

Setting: 3 voices and/or instruments

Source: Gregorian Chant Alma redemptoris mater in top voice

Dufay’s style is well exemplified in this piece. Like Josquin’s Ave Maria this motet is based in Marion worship. It is written for three voices but it was common for instruments to double or even replace the singers. I
n this recording the tenor is doubled by the sackbut, an ancestor of the trombone, while the duplum is doubled by an ancestor of the orchestral strings, the viol.

Several important characteristics distinguish Dufay’s music from that of earlier times. To begin with, the cantus firmus, drawn from Gregorian chant, has been elevated to the highest part, where the listener can easily it. Instead of being just a mystical symbolic presence, it is now a graceful melody that delights the ear. As a result, this voice dominates the others, indicating an early shift toward homophonic texture. Instead of following the chant exactly, Dufay adapts it both rhythmically and melodically to his own expressive purpose. Equally significant, he has replaced the open fifths and octaves, that give such a stark color to Medieval music, with gentler thirds and sixths. As a result he has moved well away from Machaut’s archaic sound.