Guillaume Dufay: Nuper Rosarum Flores

A score can be found here.
Our Recording

Filipo Brunelleschi
Dufay's stunning motet Nuper Rosarum Flores holds a particularly important place in the history of Florence. As its text relates, Dufays motet was composed for the consecration of Florence's great Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, known colloquially as Il Duomo on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1436. With the completion of the great dome, Florence's skyline would change forever. To this day, it is uncertain how Brunelleschi actually physically created the dome, the largest of its kind.
During the weeks leading up to the dedication Pope Eugenius, along with his retinue, was resident in the city. The esteem in which the cathedral was held was demonstrated by its being presented with a Golden Rose, a traditional gift made to an important figure in Christendom during Lent. The dedication ceremony was the highlight of the liturgical calendar. Presided over by the Pope, it feautred newly composed music performed by his Pope's special choir, the Schola Cantorum, of which Dufay himself was a member. Thousands attended; Giannozzo Manetti who was present, spoke of the music with masterful hyperbole:
"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 wonderful 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.... I was so possessed by ecstasy that I seemed to enjoy the life of the Blessed here on earth."
Though it is not certain where in the Mass Dufay's motet was performed it clearly made great impact.
Guillaume Dufay's life is difficult to ascertain. It is believed that he was born in Cambrai in Northern France and eventually made his way to Italy to sing in the Papal choir where he is placed in 1428. In the early years of the fifteenth century, Dufay became acquainted with the music of Dunstable and the English school and was the prime exponent of le contenance Anglais on the continent. Dufay became the last great composer of Motets.

Things to Note
As in Dunstable's Preco preheminenciae, the plainchant is treated isometrically. The work is divided into four sections, each begins with a florid duet between the two upper voices and continues with the entrance of the cantus firmus. Unlike a typical motet the durations of the four sections are in a ratio of 6:4:2:3, a quite odd choice. Because of this anomaly, scholars have tried to determine the significance of these ratios. A further anomaly is found in Dufay's choice to split the chant between two vocal/instrumental parts which are treated in a quasi-imitative manner (the musical lines are related somewhat, though are not exact replicas of each other - for instance at the entrance of the cantus firmus at 1:08). Some have suggested that this doubling of the cantus firmus is a musical illustration of Brunelleschi's plan to build the cupola as a dome within a dome.
The cantus firmus comes from the Introit chant for a Mass for the Dedication of a Church. This recording includes instruments playing the cantus firmus. Likely this was not the case. While Manetti reports of all manner of instruments taking part in the celebration, the Papal Choir traditionally performed everything a capella.

The chant, Terribilis est locus iste, the Cantus Firmus of this Motet

Guillaume Dufay (1397? - 1474)
Listening Chart

Guillaume Dufay: Nuper Rosarum Flores (1436)

Nuper Rosarum flores 0:00 Florid duet between soprano and tenor in triple meter.
grandis templum machinae / Terribilis 1:08 Instruments enter with first statements of Talea/Color in a quasi-imitation.
consecrare dignatus est. 2:10 Second part: Florid duet between soprano and tenor in duple meter.

tuus te Florentiae devotus / Terribilis 2:50 Instruments enter with second statements of Talea/Color in quasi-imitation. Rhythms have been reduced.
o - 3:43 Third part: Florid duet between soprano and tenor in duple meter
- ratione tua / Terribilis 4:06 Instruments enter with third statements of Talea/Color in quasi-imitation. Rhythms have been halved.

nati Domini sui 4:30 Fourth part: Florid duet between soprano and tenor in triple meter
grata beneficia / Terribilis 4:57 Instruments enter with fourth and final statements of Talea/Color in quasi-imitation. Rhythms have been multiplied by one and a half.
Amen 5:20 Homophonic Cadence

Nuper rosarum flores

Nuper rosarum flores
Ex dono pontificis
Hieme licet horrida
Tibi, virgo coelica,
Pie et sancte deditum
Grandis templum machinae
Condecorarunt perpetim.

Hodie vicarius
Jesu Christe et Petri
Successor Eugenius
Hoc idem amplissimum
Sacris templum manibus
Sanctisque liquoribus
Consecrare dignatus est.

Igitur, alma parens
Nati tui et filia
Virgo decus virginum,
Tuus te Florentiae
Devotus erat populus,
Ut qui mente et corpore
Mundo quicquam exorarit.

Oratione tua
Cruciatus et meritis
Tui secundum carnem
Nati Domini sui
Grata beneficia
Veniamque reatum
Accipere meraeatur.

Cantus Firmus
Terribilis est locus iste

Nuper rosarum flores

Recently garlands of roses
were given by the Pope -
despite a terrible winter -
to you, heavenly Virgin,
dedicated in a pious and holy fashion,
a temple of great ingenuity,
to be a perpetual adornment.

Today the vicar
of Jesus Christ and of Peter
a successor, Eugenius,
has to this vast
temple with his hands
and holy liquors
deigned to consecrate.

Therefore, sweet parent
of your son, and daughter,
virgin of virgins,
to you the Florentines
devoted as a people,
together in mind and body
on earth, pray to you.

By your prayer
to the crucified and worthy,
your second flesh,
their Lord,
grant us benefit
and receive pardons
for their transgression.

Cantus Firmus
Magnificent is this place.

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All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.