Dufay was one of the most highly regarded composers of his generation, and one of those principally responsible for inaugurating the Renaissance in music. Dufay was born in Cambrai, currently in France, and then in the Duchy of Burgundy – one of the primary musical centers of the era, and a highly significant staging ground for the structural principles of the high Renaissance. He spent a considerable portion of his life in Italy, in various cities, and so not only contributed to a refinement in the musical life of bustling Italy, but also brought ideas on lively Italian textures to the intellectual centers of Northern Europe. Dufay was one of the most cosmopolitan composers of his or any age, and his large musical output contains masterpieces in every genre from cyclic masses to isorhythmic motets to simply ornamented hymns and dramatic cycles.
Dufay's music flows more smoothly than the characteristically complex rhythmic textures of the late Medieval period, and is marked by graceful melodies and a compelling sense of direction. As his career progressed and his fame grew, Dufay increasingly took up the four-voice vocal texture which was to be characteristic of the early Renaissance as a whole. His four cantus firmus masses "Se la face ay pale," "L'homme arme," "Ecce ancilla domini," and "Ave regina caelorum" are landmarks in what was to become the dominant style of mass composition. The Missa "Se la face ay pale" is probably the earliest surviving mass based on a secular theme, previous cantus-firmus masses having been based on liturgical chant.
Today, we value Dufay's music not only for its grace and invention, but also for its significant historical position in the quickly evolving style of the early Renaissance. The fact that the life of so cosmopolitan a character from this period has been preserved so well in documentation lends invaluable insight on the musical developments of the time. ~ Todd McComb (6/94)