Guillaume Dufay (Du Fay, Du Fayt) (August 5, 1397? – November 27, 1474) was a Franco-Flemish composer and music theorist of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century.
From the evidence of his will, he was probably born in Beersel, in the vicinity of Brussels. He was the illegitimate child of an unknown priest and a woman named Marie Du Fayt. Marie moved with her son to Cambrai early in his life, staying with a relative who was a canon of the cathedral there. Soon Dufay's musical gifts were noticed by the cathedral authorities, who evidently gave him a thorough training in music; he studied with Rogier de Hesdin during the summer of 1409, and he was listed as a choirboy in the cathedral from 1409 to 1412. During those years he studied with Nicolas Malin, and the authorities must have been impressed with the boy's gifts because they gave him his own copy of Villedieu’s Doctrinale in 1411, a highly unusual event for one so young. In June 1414, at the age of only 16, he had already been given a benefice as chaplain at St. Géry, immediately adjacent to Cambrai. Later that year he probably went to the Council of Konstanz, staying possibly until 1418, at which time he returned to Cambrai.
From November 1418 to 1420 he was a subdeacon at Cambrai Cathedral. In 1420 he left Cambrai again, this time going to Rimini, and possibly Pesaro, where he worked for the Malatesta family. Although no records survive of his employment there, several compositions of his can be dated to this period; they contain references that make a residence in Italy reasonably certain. It was there that he met the composers Hugo and Arnold de Lantins, who were among the musicians of the Malatesta household. In 1424 Dufay again returned to Cambrai, this time because of the illness and subsequent death of the relative with whom his mother was staying. By 1426, however, he had gone back to Italy, this time to Bologna, where he entered the service of Cardinal Louis Aleman, the papal legate. While in Bologna he became a deacon, and by 1428 he was a priest. Cardinal Aleman was driven from Bologna by the rival Canedoli family in 1428, and Dufay also left at this time, going to Rome. He became a member of the Papal Choir, serving first Pope Martin V, and then after the death of Pope Martin in 1431, Pope Eugene IV. In 1434 he was appointed maistre de chappelle in Savoy, where he served Duke Amédée VIII; evidently he left Rome because of a crisis in the finances of the papal choir, and to escape the turbulence and uncertainty during the struggle between the papacy and the Council of Basel. Yet in 1435 he was again in the service of the papal chapel, but this time it was in Florence — Pope Eugene having been driven from Rome in 1434 by the establishment of an insurrectionary republic there, sympathetic to the Council of Basel and the Conciliar movement. In 1436 Dufay composed the festive motet Nuper rosarum flores, one of his most famous compositions, which was sung at the dedication of Brunelleschi's dome of the cathedral in Florence, where Eugene lived in exile.
During this period Dufay also began his long association with the Este family in Ferrara, some of the most important musical patrons of the Renaissance, and with which he probably had become acquainted during the days of his association with the Malatesta family; Rimini and Ferrara are not only geographically close, but the two families were related by marriage, and Dufay composed at least one ballade for Niccolò III, Marquis of Ferrara. In 1437 Dufay visited the town. When Niccolò died in 1441, the next Marquis maintained the contact with Dufay, and not only continued financial support for the composer but copied and distributed some of his music.Show more