John Dunstable (± 1390-1453): Magnificat

Arms John of Lancaster Duke of Bedford The English composer John Dunstable (± 1390-1453) came to the Continent in the retinue of John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford whose arms you can see to the left. Bedford was King Henry V of England’s brother, following Henry’s victory at the battle of Agincourt Bedford was sent as regent to France to rule the heritage of William of Normandy (the Conqueror) and the Aquitainian possessions of the Plantagenets which was now claimed by England.

There’s no direct evidence that Dunstable stayed in the territories occupied by the English during Bedford’s regency (1422 to 1435) but it seems a reasonable assumption. Wherever it was he lived his musical influence spread rapidly throughout France. French composers and musicians were enraptured by Dunstable’s music, he was the prime exponent of what came to be called  »le goût anglais« – ‘the English style’ this musical innovation in which the interval of the third was systematically introduced in the fifth made for richer and more plentiful harmonies and a sonority that is close to that familiar to modern listeners.

Dunstable’s music and its impact on his contemporaries and successors is important because it represents the moment at which the music with which we’re familiar today began its long emergence. The spread of Dunstable’s innovation which formed the triad C-E-G  (a triad is a chord made up of three notes based on the interval of a third) served to progressively increase musicians’ awareness of the importance of harmony, i.e. vertical writing, as opposed to the horizontal structure of polyphony and was a sine qua non for the future of western musical development. You’ll find Dunstable’s "Magnificat" performed by the superb Belgian group the Laudantes Consort conducted by Guy Janssens together with the text and two translations below the fold. Enjoy :-)

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LatinEnglishTraditional Translation:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.

Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:

ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.

Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est:

et sanctum nomen eius.

Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenies

timentibus eum.

Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo:

dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.

Deposuit potentes de sede,

et exaltavit humiles.

Esurientes implevit bonis:

et divites dimisit inanes.

Suscepit Israel, puerum suum,

recordatus misericordiae suae.

Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,

Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.

Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,

et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Luke 1: 46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

And my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.

For he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his handmaiden:

behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done wondrous things for me:

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is upon them

that fear him throughout all generations.

He has shown the power of his arm:

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has put down the mighty from their seat,

and has exalted the humble and meek.

He has filled the hungry with good things:

and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has sustained his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy.

As he promised to our forefathers,

Abraham and his sons for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,

world without end. Amen.

My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his hand-maiden.

For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations.

He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel:

As he promised to our forefather Abraham and to his seed for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, and is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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