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Eustache Du Caurroy

(1549 - 1609)

Du Caurroy was a student of Claude Le Jeune, and the last major composer of Renaissance vocal polyphony in France. Du Caurroy served as composer to the royal chamber for three Kings of France, but in his own time was considered the equal of Orlando di Lassus in compositional prowess.

Du Caurroy's surviving music consists of a Missa pro defunctis; a collection of fifty-three Latin motets for between three and nine voices, "Preces ecclesiasticae" (1609); a collection of sixty-five French pieces of various natures, "Les Meslanges" (1610); and a collection of forty-two instrumental fantasias published in open score (1611). His published collections are carefully prepared anthologies of the best of his oeuvre.

In the collection "Les Meslanges," Du Caurroy takes up some of the stylistic principles of Le Jeune, including the "musique mesuree" and other complicated compositional devices. In his motets, he is known as an austere composer of structurally involved music, though several of the motets for double choir are quite jubilant.

Du Caurroy's Missa pro defunctis is an extremely famous piece, and was performed at all the funerals for French Kings for nearly two hundred years, earning it the apocryphal title "Mass for the funerals of the Kings of France." It is unlikely that Du Caurroy ever anticipated this work to have such a posthumous reputation; however, it is a fine piece of sombre mood and subtle polyphony.

Finally, Du Caurroy's fantasias are an exceptional set of instrumental pieces, the earliest such attributed works in French music. These posthumous fantasias – the most serious instrumental genre of the time, as opposed to Romantic ideas on the subject – are written for from three to six parts, with an astonishing depth of expression and an amazing imagination and variety of technique. They have been compared to Bach's "Art of Fugue" as an "Art of Fantasia." These incomparable ensemble compositions deserve to be much better known. ~ Todd McComb (6/94)

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