John Dunstaple

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John Dunstaple or Dunstable (born about 1390; died 24 December 1453) was an English composer who lived in the last part of the medieval era and the early part of the Renaissance. He was one of the most famous composers in the early 15th century. He had a lot of influence on music in England as well as on the continent. He helped to develop the style of the Burgundian School.

The spelling "Dunstaple" is more often used today because in documents from his time this is the spelling that is more common, although some documents spelt his name "Dunstable".

Life[change | edit source]

Dunstaple was probably born in Dunstable, Bedfordshire around 1390. We know very little about his life. He was well educated and he worked for the Duke of Bedford who was the fourth son of Henry IV and brother of Henry V. He may have spent some time in France because the duke was Regent of France from 1423 to 1429, and then Governor of Normandy from 1429 to his death in 1435. Dunstaple owned property in Normandy, and also in Cambridgeshire, Essex and London, according to tax records of 1436. He also worked for the Duke of Gloucester.

Many composers at that time were priests, but Dunstaple was not, although he had connections with St Albans Abbey. He was probably married. During his life he was not just known as a composer but also as an astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician.

He died on Christmas Eve 1453, and was buried in the church of St Stephen Walbrook in London which was later destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Music and influence[change | edit source]

We hardly have any original manuscripts of Dunstaple’s music. England was a very musical country at the time, but almost all that music was destroyed between 1536 and 1540 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry VIII was ruling. Most of Dunstaple’s works which survive were works which were found on the continent, mostly in north Italy. This shows that he must have been famous throughout Europe. He influenced Dufay and Binchois. The Flemish composer and music theorist Tinctoris wrote in 1476 that he was the most important musician of new music which had started in England.

Dunstaple was one of the first to compose masses using one melody as cantus firmus. He wrote many carols, but we do not know which ones are by him because he did not sign his name to them. He wrote secular music, but it has been lost.

References[change | edit source]