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John Dunstable was born c.1390 and died on 24th December 1453. We know the exact date of his death from an epitaph on his grave in St. Stephen's, Walbrook; it describes him as a 'prince of music, an astrologian, a mathematician and what not'. In his lifetime, he was the most influential of a group of English musicians working in the first half of the 15th century, but he also wrote treatises on astronomy, which - together with his epitaph - shows the close connection of the quadrivium-sciences in the educational system of the Septem Artes Liberales at the time.

Dunstable is supposed to have accompanied John of Bedford to France, when he was regent there in the 1420s, and to have been influenced by two Burgundian musicians, Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois. Returning to England, his new ideas on music for several voices (polyphonic music), religious and secular, spread fast in Europe. They are highly theoretical and mostly concern composition technique, but what can also be understood by non-musicians is his simple idea of "declamation": music accompanying a text is interpreting it at the same time; one can hear sadness or happiness.

As musicians all over Europe gladly took up Dunstable's innovations, it became necessary for the first time to sign musical compositions for copyright reasons. By this we know of about fifty compositions by Dunstable, found in manuscripts from Flanders down to Italy. Even 30 years after Dunstable's death, the London wool merchant George Cely states in his papers, that he paid money for learning to dance, to play instruments and to sing Dunstable's lovesong O rosa bella. A new trend in musical performance was showing at the end of the 15th century: not only professionals, but also laymen wanted to be able to play music.

John Dunstable
15th Century
O Rosa Bella