Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Time Capsule: 1455

Let’s take a quick look back in time…to the year 1455…a year of news and a year to remember.

TC-1455-gutenberg bible detail

Photo: Aaron Gustafson (Flickr)

Page detail from the Gutenberg Bible, published in 1455.

Probably the biggest event to affect music in 1455 was the publication of the Gutenberg bible in Mainz, Germany. Why does this affect music? The Gutenberg bible was the publication that started a wave of books published for a wide audience. Before this, copies of the bible were scarce because each one was hand-copied and usually stored in a monastery or the private library of a wealthy nobleman. While the average person still could not purchase a copy of the Gutenberg bible, there was no turning back once people figured out that mass production meant more profits and a wider span of influence.

The year 1455 also saw the beginning of the War of the Roses. This battle for the English crown lasted from 1455 to 1485 and pitted the houses of Lancaster and York against each other. It was later called the War of the Roses because of the supposed badges of each house: Lancaster, who wore red roses, and York, who wore white ones. The house of Lancaster was the eventual victor under its last descendent, Henry Tudor. He married Elisabeth of York, uniting the two families, and the Tudors would rule England until Elizabeth I’s death in 1603.

Elsewhere in Europe, namely the Savoy region of modern France, the composer Guillaume Dufay shows up in records of the time as the chapel master for the Duke of Savoy. Born near Brussels and working most of his life throughout Italy, Dufay looked for a position in a court closer to his hometown where he could spend his final years. With an unusual amount of certainty for music from this time, we can date Dufay’s Missa ‘Se la face ay pale’ based on a chanson by Dufay himself. The words of the chanson came from a poet associated with the circle of Charles d’Orléans, who visited the area of Savoy in 1455. Dufay wrote the mass on this chanson around the same time. Dufay also composed his lamentations around 1455 commemorating the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire two years earlier.

Music excerpt

Guillaume Dufay: Kyrie
Early Music Consort of London — Dufay: Se la face ay pale (Virgin Veritas , 1996)
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Additional information about people, music, and events mentioned in this time capsule

Lancaster Against York: The Wars of the Roses and the Foundation of Modern Britain
Trevor Royle
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album cover

Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words
John Man
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Guillaume Dufay: Kyrie
Early Music Consort of London — Dufay: Se la face ay pale (Virgin Veritas , 1996)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Lancaster Against York: The Wars of the Roses and the Foundation of Modern Britain
Trevor Royle
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words
John Man
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Early Music is a nationally syndicated weekly early music radio program, podcast and blog produced by WFIU Public Radio.

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