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Nuper Rosarum Flores
Music History

Guillaume DuFay: Nuper Rosarum Flores

25 March 1436: Pope Eugenius IV consecrates the Florence cathedral. The cathedral is complete with the addition of a new dome - greater than any dome that could be found anywhere in Italy, including Rome. Even scholar Leone Battista Alberti had come to witness this historic event. "First there was a great line of trumpeters, lutenists, and flutists, each carrying his instrument, trumpet, lute, flute, in his hands each dressed in red clothing." (Weiss 81) They joined the papal choir to perform a piece entitled Nuper Rosarum Flores (Recently Roses Came) by Guillaume DuFay, who had been a famous European composer for nearly 20 years.
Many years before, the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral had a hole in its roof. The original plan had been to build a cupola, where the 45.5-meter in diameter hole now sat. The dome would have been low and reinforced by scaffolding to keep from collapse. However, the cathedral was so expansive, typical fifteenth century scaffolding from the ground could not be used to support the dome. So, Filippo Brunelleschi, an artist, mathematician and expert in the rules of perspective was called. Upon seeing the obstacle, he was inspired by its similarity Roman construction. Later, based upon his observations in Rome, he suggested that a drum be built above the chancel to support the dome. Fortunately, he was on the right track, but no one knew what to do next. Unfortunately, the drum only made the construction of the cupola more difficult. A competition began to see which architect in Italy could design an octagonal cupola that was 46 meters in diameter at the base, built without scaffolding, and, to the people on the ground, make it appear at least double in size. Brunelleschi won the competition, but competition did not end there. His rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had taken the commission from Brunelleschi for the north door of the Baptistery, wanted to oversee the dome project. He was given that job, but Brunelleschi got very sick. Ghiberti, faced with the project without Brunelleschi, failed to move forward and was forced to leave his position. Soon after the phony illness, Brunelleschi had the project in his hands (Notre Dame). He created a double dome: the upper part consisted of brick because it was lighter than stone; he also used a pointed, arched dome because it was more efficient than a rounded dome (MEGA). The dome however, was not quite complete. A lantern was added in 1436, two years after the completion of the cupola, making the total height of the cupola 114.5 meters. (150 years later, that lantern was struck by lightening and replaced with a bigger one.) (Notre Dame) The "Cupolone" ("Great Cupola" as the Florentines have named it) became a structure of beauty and magnificence, thus warranting a composer of equal quality to create the ideal music for such a heavenly cathedral.
Guillaume DuFay was the best choice. He had a lot of Italian background even though he was born in Cambrai, a region of northern France, in 1397. He trained as a choirboy at the Cambrai Cathedral for several years. There, he is thought to have learned the fine art of composition either after years of copying music by hand or from the magister puerorum of the Cathedral, Nicolas Malin. By the time he was a teenager, he moved to Italy, to advance his career. He apprenticed with Richard Loqueville to enhance his career as a singer. In 1428 he joined a papal choir, which was one of the highest positions for a musician to be in during the fifteenth century. He remained with the papal choir as it moved from Rome to Florence and then to Bologna. He stayed with the choir off and on until June of 1437, occasionally preparing songs for the wealthy Malesta family. It was in Bologna that he received a degree in canon law. As a result of this and his compositional skills, DuFay was given one of the most respectable offices of the time as a canon of Cambrai Cathedral. Although he left intermittently throughout the rest of his life to return to Italy, he spent the last few years in Cambrai before he died on November 27, 1474 (Guilliame) During his lifetime he completed seven masses, 28 individual Mass movements, 27 hymns, 22 motets (13 isorhythmic), in addition to a variety of additional pieces from plainchant to secular pieces, all of which were spectacular. "Dufay was the last great exponent of the isorhythmic style, and his large-scale festival motets such as Nuper Rosarum Flores (in 4 parts) are among the most spectacular creations of the period" (McComb).
DuFay indeed created one of the most incredible isorhythmic motets by combining old techniques with new ideas. As Andreas Voellmy states in her article, "DuFay looks to both the Ars Nova of the 14th century France and to the Greek ideal of music's emotional powers." In the late fifteenth century, isorhythmic motets were considered "old". Isorhythmic motets first appeared from Phillippe de Vitry in the fourteenth century in the French "Ars Nova" revolution. Isorhythmic motets contain two parts: the color, which is a pitch pattern, and the talea, which is the rhythmic pattern. Roughly translated to mean "equal rhythm", isorhythm is characterized by the end of the talea and the end of the color coinciding (Yudkin 462-464). DuFay wrote Nuper Rosarum Flores as an isorhythmic motet, but his expertise is hardly comparable to those who first explored the use of isorhythm as they were just beginning to understand the uses of changing meter.
The meter of Nuper Rosarum Flores changes four times throughout the piece. The rhythmic structure of Nuper Rosarum Flores coincides with the ratio 6:4:2:3 argue some musicologists. Those proportions also equal the proportions of the nave, the crossing, the apse, and the height of the arch of the cathedral. The topic of whether this was how Dufay intentionally arranged it is still undecided. Other theories regarding the meter include a rhythmic proportion of 4:3:2:1, which are the proportions of Pythagoras' perfect interval discovery. Pythagoras declared that the perfect intervals - the octave, fifth, fourth, and unison - could be expressed mathematically by ratios. Some theoreticians believe DuFay intended to express this in his work. In addition to these is a discussion based on how the number seven played a role in the piece. Supporting evidence is overwhelming. There are 8 x 7 breves in each of the four parts of the motet; 4 x 7 breves exist in each two-voice and four-voice subsection; 2 x 7 tones stand in the cantus; and seven syllables of text in each line. If that was not enough evidence, primary measures 15 through 28 in the first tenor line are composed of 7 periods of rest and 2 x 7 notes. The second tenor does not figure out so well under this theory though because there are 5 periods of rest with 2 x 7 notes. Seven was considered an important number because of its holy implications. "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars" (Prov. 9:1). All of these arguments have compelling evidence, and when combined with DuFay's genius, it seems to indicate that at least one of them is an accurate argument, if not all.
The rhythm of Nuper Rosarum Flores has many small implications that make the music more wonderful and its statement stronger. The talea of the piece is not simple. As stated previously, there are four talea and each one utilizes a different meter. The first one uses a 2 x 3/2, the second 2 x 4/4, then 4/4, and finally 6/4 (see Appendix). Within each talea, the first 14 primary measures contain only rests, while this is characteristic of isorhythmic introits, the repetition of it throughout all four talea give an impression of a repeated introit. This gives a chance for the upper voices to comprise a duet before the two tenor parts return to give a four-part texture. The upper voices have a lot more freedom than the tenors; they are not restrained by a definite isorhythmic structure, but they repeat thematic material to keep the piece connected. Comparing the first six measures of each talea, there are several themes visible within it (See Appendix). These themes create a more continuous melody for each part. Both the triplum and the motetus have individual characteristics that connect them to their own line. These small motives are approximately one measure long and repeat between different talea. Both the triplum and the motetus have their own types of contour within each respective voice. The triplum also has a repeated motif that makes the piece more peaceful to a listener's ear and it will sound more like a melody. The third talea in the motetus and triplum part bear far less resemblance to the themes from the other talea in the upper voices. "The duet is in exact canon, with the rhythms and pitches of the voices identical to each other, except that the pitches are at an interval level of a fourth" (Voellmy). There is also a frequent use of a motif in this section, more common than in other talea. This technique draws more attention to the motif by not decorating the other parts and "distracting the ear". At the same time, the color has an important presence in the sound. The color of Nuper Rosarum Flores is taken directly from plainchant Terribilis est locus iste. The first tenor part begins this on a G and Tenor 2 starts the chant a fifth above that on a D. The tenors interact in a free canon of different rhythms and pitch levels. The color repeats at the same rate as the talea creating a sound intended to evoke feelings of happiness out of each audience member. Together, DuFay and Brunelleschi contributed to a successful event that was accented by their use of archaic styles of Rome and France. Both artists considered this to be appropriate for the consecration of a most beloved Cathedral. At the same time, they both continued to advance their fields- Brunelleschi with the largest and most beautiful dome of the time and DuFay with his use of occasional five-voice texture to add strength and beauty to his music. The result according to Giannozzo Manetti:

When these decorations had thus been completely set out, and uncommonly well, lo, the day arrived - the most solemn and most honored of all days instituted by the Roman Church, the day of the angelic Annunciation, which the Pope a few days earlier, as we said above, had established as an opportune time for the consecration. Along with the fragrant pontifical rose, they bound that most precious alter in wondrous manner with gifts most worthy.
First there was a great line of trumpeters, lutenists, and flutists, each carrying his instrument, trumpet, lute, flute, in his hands, and each dressed in red clothing. Meanwhile, everywhere there was singing with so many and such various voices, such harmonies exalted even to heaven, that truly it was to the listener like angelic and divine melodies; the voices filled the listeners' ears with such a wondrous sweetness that they seemed to become stupefied, almost as men were fabled to become upon hearing the singing of the sirens. I could believe without impiety that even in Heaven, yearly on this most solemn day that marks the beginning of human salvation, the angels sing thus, the more ardently to give themselves up to the celebration of this festive day with sweet singing. And then, when they made their customary pauses in singing, so joyous and sweet was the reverberation that mental stupor, now calmed by the cessation of those sweet symphonies, seemed as if to regather strength from the wonderful sounds (Weiss 82).


Brown, Howard. Music in the Renaissance. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1976. pg 40.
Elders, Willem. Symbolic Scores: Studies in the Music of the Renaissance. New York: E.J. Brill, 1994. p13-14.
"Guillaume Dufay: The Man and His Music."
MAB Soloists. "Nuper Rosarum Flores." (1995).
McComb, Todd M. "Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) - A discography." (July 1999).
MEGA. "The Cupola."
Notre Dame, University of. "About Nuper Rosarum Flores and the Florentine Duomo." (1997).
Prince, Tyson. "Historical Background into the Life and Music of Guillaume DuFay." (22 April 1997).
Toronto, University of. "Dufay's Motet and Brunelleschi's Dome: Brunelleschi's Dome: Images." (2000).
Toronto, University of. "Dufay's Motet and Brunelleschi's Dome: Nuper Rosarum Flores: Text and Translation." (2000).
Voellmy, Andreas. "Dufay's Synthesis of Ars Nova and Renaissance Techniques in Nuper Rosarum Flores." (23 November 1997).
Weiss, Piero and Taruskin, Richard. Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. New York: Schirmer Books, 1984. p81-82.
Yudkin, Jeremy. Music in Medieval Europe. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989. p462-464.