Guillaume Dufay Biography

Guillaume Dufay
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Quick Facts

Birthday: August 5, 1397

Nationality: French

Died At Age: 77

Sun Sign: Leo

Born in: Brussels

Famous as: Music Composer

French Men Leo Musicians


mother: Marie Du Fayt

Died on: November 27, 1474

place of death: Cambrai

City: Brussels, Belgium

More Facts

education: University of Turin

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The great French-Flemish composer, Guillaume Dufay was undoubtedly one of the most influential composers of his time and age. His vast reservoir of music not only made him a versatile composer of different genres, but also put forth his talent in the field of merging modern music with a classic Renaissance touch. His bold approach also led him to incorporate western music styles into his music that affected and influenced most of his works. Most of his compositions have been compared to the likes of other eminent composers such as Machaut and Beethoven. With commendable versatility and a proclivity, he served in the Papal Choir and was also highly trained in the field of music. Many of the harmonies used in modern music were brought out by Dufay and he had also taught various composers on how to work with modern instruments and understand their different qualities. Dufay was contributory in writing music only for musical instruments and not vocal practices. These included the spinetto, the piano, clarinet and even the viol to name a few. From harmonies to folkloric rhythms of the Medieval Period, Guillaume’s music changed and defined the history of music, which went on to inspire countless musicians after him.
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Childhood And Early Life
There is very little information on Dufay’s early childhood and life. He was said to have been born in Beersal, Flanders in modern Brussels. Dufay was also said to have been an illicit child born illegitimately to a priest and a woman called ‘Marie Du Fayt’ on August 5, 1397. Marie moved with her son to Cambrai during his early years, and they stayed with a relative who was the tenet of a Cathedral at the time. It was not very long before the Cathedral authorities recognized Dufay’s passion and talent in music and he was soon sent to study under ‘Rogier de Hesdin’ in the summer of 1409 during his teenage years.

It was here he learnt the ways and the world of music and he was soon listed as a choirboy for his exceptional vocal talents from the periods of 1409 to 1412 at the Cathedral. After serving a brief stretch with the Cathedral, Dufay went on to study more music under another renowned gentleman called ‘Nicolas Mali’ who duly recognized his efforts and presented him with the prestigious ‘Doctrinale’ in the year 1411, which was never presented to a child earlier. In the year 1414, at the age of 16, Dufay was offered an award from the church as a chaplain at the St. Gery cathedral.  This was officially his first step towards a long and fruitful career in the world of Music. In the subsequent year, Dufy stayed at the Council of Konstanz before returning to Cambria permanently in the year 1418.

His early career started out as a turbulent one. He was appointed as the sub deacon in the Cathedral at Cambrai, following which he left his post in the year 1420 and travelled to Pesaro. Most of his works date back to this period of his life, and although there is no documentary evidence that proves his residence at Pesaro, most of his works make references to the setting of his residence; in this case, it would be Italy. It was here where Dufay met his fellow composers ‘Arnold Lantins’ and ‘Hugo’ who were prominent musicians at the wealthy, ‘Malatesta’ household. He had returned to Cambrai in the year 1425 following the death of one of his closest relatives with whom he and his mother were staying. After this brief period of personal loss, he decided to journey to Bologna and immediately entered the service of ‘Cardinal Louis Aleman’. It was here that he was promoted to deacon and then finally a priest in the year 1428. His musical journey began with him joining the Papal Choir and serving Pope Martin V and Pope Eugene IV. He eventually left his post and was appointed as ‘maitre de chapelle’ at Savoy before he left Rome. By the year 1435, he began his service once again with the Chapel, but this time it was at Florence, and it was here he came up with his legendary motet, ‘Nuper Rosarum Flores’.  He also composed one of his famous ballads for the Este family to whom he was acquainted in the year 1437. The Marquis of Ferrera grew increasingly close with Dufay, promised to lend him financial support during the financial crisis, and also distributed Dufay’s music that would make his works known.

 The constant skirmishes between the Papacy and the Council threatened Dufay’s career and with the hope of assuming office as Canon at Cambrai he would had to study law. Dufay went on to graduate with a degree in Law from the University of Turin, and then went on to remain in Cambrai for the rest of his life at the previous canon’s residence following his mother’s demise in the year 1445. It was during the early 1440’s where he wrote his extensive collection of liturgic and polyphonic music. These came in the form of his famous masses, Magnificats, antiphons and simple hymns. He was also entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the work and general administration of the Cathedral.

 After the scuffle between the Papacy and the church began to heal, Dufay decided to leave Cambrai yet again and this time he did not return to Cambrai for more than six years. During this period, he composed one of his four celebrated ‘Lamentationes’ that he had created during the Fall of Constantinople in the year 1453. He also went on to create his renowned mass ‘Se la face ay pale’ that went on to inspire a generation of music composers after Dufay. He failed to gain the position he was hoping for, and thus he retired in the year 1458 after a series of liturgical and mass compositions. He soon, travelled to Savoy on a frequent basis as choir master for the Duke of Savoy, where he not only taught his students to compose music, but got them to learn different modern instruments with which they could make harmonies.

Later Years
After he returned to Cambrai to settle permanently, he was appointed as the Canon at the Cambrai Cathedral, along with carrying the title of being one of the most influential composers in Europe during the Renaissance period.  He manages to establish affiliations with the court of Burgundy and composed a myriad of musical pieces for them from ‘fauxbourdons’, to chant settings and instrumental, secular music. It was at this stage, he composed over 28 masses, ballades and 22 isorhythmic motets. He had many avid followers and listeners out of which a few prominent personalities were Ockeghem and Loyset Compere. They were greatly influenced by the development of Dufay’s polyphonic styles of composition, and went on to adapt some of these styles in their own opuses. During the year 1460, he wrote one of his most prominent Requiem works that has been lost over centuries. There is no documentary evidence of this great composition.

Personal Life
Dufay grew to become a rich and powerful personality in the world of music. He was known for his broad minded approach, and was a key cosmopolitan figure during his time. Little is known about Dufay’s personal life, and the only information ever recorded was of his closeness to his mother and his relatives with whom he lived under the same roof after his mother moved to Cambrai. He became a social recluse after the death of his mother Marie in the year 1444.

Death And Legacy
Dufay died after a prolonged illness on November 27th 1474. Just before his death, he requested for his famous motet ‘Ave Regina Celorum’ to be sung to him on his death bed, but much before the preparations for his request were underway, Dufay breathed his last. He was buried at the Chapel at the Cathedral of Cambrai, and it is said that over the years, his tombstone was lost, to be discovered again many centuries later in the year 1859 and was erected at the Arts museum in Lille. One of the most powerful composers of the early 15th century, Dufay’s music, especially in the field of isorhythms, introduced a new pattern and defined a whole new world of music for consecutive composers showing his diverse versatility and his musical genius in the domain of western music. Almost all composers absorbed Dufay’s musical styles, and although musical printing was far-fetched at the time of his compositions, his works managed to circulate around Europe and the rest of the world, and was admired by countless musical aficionados.


1397 :

Guillaume Dufay was born as an illicit child to a priest and his mother, Marie Du Fayt in Beersal, Brussels.

1409 :

Studied under Rogier de Hesdin and was appointed as choirboy till the year 1412.

1411 :

He was presented with the renowned ‘Doctrinale', which was a usual honor for a child.

1414 :

He was given the position of Chaplain at St. Gery.

1418 :

He was appointed as the sub deacon at Cambrai Cathedral till 1420.

1420 :

Dufay left for Pesaro where he met fellow composers Hugo and Arnold de Lantins.

1426 :

Dufay left for Bologna where was provided his service to the Cardinal Louis Aleman

1428 :

He became a priest and also began his affiliations with the Canedoli family. He also served Pope Martin V and Pope Eugene IV.

1434 :

He was appointed as ‘maitre de chapelle' at Savoy.

1436 :

Composed his famous motet ‘Nuper Rosarum Flores'.

1441 :

His music was being distributed and gained recognition all through Europe.

1444 :

Dufay's mother, Marie died.

1452 :

He composed his famous ‘Lamentationes' and his renowned mass, ‘Se la face ay Pale', and also served as choirmaster for a brief period.

1460 :

Dufay composed a Requiem mass that cannot be found in any historical documents.

1474 :

Dufay died after a prolonged illness in the month of November at his residence. He was buried at the chapel at the Cathedral of Cambrai.

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