ENGLAND AND FLANDERS: DUNSTABLE AND DUFAY
As THE EXISTENCE of Sumer is icumen in proves, there must have been as early as the thirteenth century a knowledge of the principles of counterpoint and a considerable skill in its use within restricted limits. It is not, however, until early in the fifteenth century that we find the beginnings of a true polyphonic style. All the music that has come down to us from the Middle Ages is, with the exception of the Reading Rota or Rondel, church music, and the Church was, as it ever has been, conservative. The ecclesiastical authorities frowned upon innovations and especially upon those derived from secular sources, such as the canonic devices of the Rota. They could, however, do no more than retard the development of a new style of church music, which was bound to take place in an eager and inquiring age. It would have been as impossible for them to stop their architects from building Gothic cathedrals instead of adhering to the old Norman style. It needed only a great composer to give impetus to the new methods of composition by introducing some measure of system into its hitherto crude and haphazard manner. That composer was found in England, where the great period of polyphonic music began with John Dunstable, even as it ended there with William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.
Dunstable was the most important of a group of English composers who seem to have spent the greater part of their working life on the Continent. Their music shows a very distinct advance upon anything that had so far been achieved. Dunstable himself was, indeed, the first composer in the modern sense, in that he created something like a personal style. His music, archaic though it may sound to modern ears, has a suavity and a regard for euphony hitherto unknown. The voices move with a new freedom, not being perpetu-