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Harmonia Early Music

Harmonia Time Capsule: 1390

Let’s take a quick look back in time. . . . to the year 1390 -- the year of John Dunstable's birth and the deaths of John I and Robert II.

John I, Duke of Lorraine's effigy on door of The Craffe at Nancy, France.

The year celebrates the birth of John Dunstaple, a man claimed by music theorist and composer Johannes Tinctoris to be the “fount and origin,” of a new and remarkable musical style.  This style, dubbed the English countenance, or la contenance angloise, by Martin le Franc in his poem Le Champion des Dames, featured a prevalence of imperfect consonant sonorities. (What we refer to today as major and minor thirds and sixths).  It seems as though a preference for such sonorities originated in England and was not long after adopted by contemporaneous composers from continental Europe.  We can hear acceptance, and even excitement, for Dunstaple’s English countenance in the music of Burgundian School composers, such as Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois.

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Also born in that year was a woman who may have heard the music of Dunstaple. Anne de Mortimer was a noblewoman of the House of Plantagenet and a descendant of King Edward III.  Anne’s noble lineage placed her and her kin in a position to contend for the throne of England.  Indeed, a slew of courtly conflicts involving Anne’s son Richard developed into outright war between the Plantagenet’s two rival lines.  Richard managed to secure his position for the throne, but died in battle before it could be claimed.

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Among the deaths in 1390 were those of John I, Duke of Lorraine and Robert II of Scotland.

The former assumed his title when he was but six months old and spent the remainder of his life in battle, much like his father Rudolph, Duke of Lorraine.  As a lieutenant-general for the Holy Roman Empire, John pressed toward eastern Slavic lands and took part in crusades across Lithuania with the Teutonic Knights.  He died in Paris while engaged in a different sort of battle, this time in defense against the citizens of Neufchâteau, who had charged him with misuse of power.

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The latter, Robert II, was grandson of Robert the Bruce and the first of the royal house of Stewart.  Robert claimed the throne of Scotland at the age of fifty-five and from its vantage point sought to maintain dominion over a country divided in allegiance.  Even after major conflicts with the English had subsided, the country still maintained English garrisons and sheltered citizens whose loyalties lay with foreign occupants.  Robert spent much of his rule defending his country from re-possession at the hand of King Edward III.  He died at Dundonald Castle, following likely another expedition to promote political unity.

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Music heard in this time capsule:

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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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