John Dunstable (or Dunstaple) (c. 1390 – 1453)

Dunstable was one of the most famous composers active in the early 15th century, and a contemporary of Leonel Power. Until Dunstable, the octave, fifth, and fourth were considered stable and consonant intervals. It isn’t like these other intervals were not as good, indeed, you will note in most of these composers we have looked at so far, it is not unusual to have a passing second which is quite dissident, especially the minor second, but works very nicely when in a passing melodic line and is gently entered and resolved.  Dunstable was noted for his style of music known as the “English countenance,” or la contenance angloise.  He not only liked the interval of the third, but discovered that if one third was placed above another third, making a triad, it sounded very pleasing and stable, as did a third juxtaposed with a sixth.   Today we would know this combination as a chord; however, it would not be until Monteverdi in the early Baroque Period that these cords would be arranged into a chordal progression that could have the effect of giving the listener an expectation of what was to come, of leading the listener to anticipate what will come, which also could set up a harmonic surprise.  We haven’t arrived there yet.

In order to see the function of a chordal progression in Monteverdi as compared to the mere triadic structures in John Dunstable, see

Compare John Dunstable’s Veni Sancte Spriritus at in which you will note passing dissonances of a second, a seventh or a nineth, with the chordal qualities of Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa  at; or see for a performance of the same piece in a different venue and by a different group.

See for a performance of Quam pulchra es [How beautiful you are] from the Song of Solomon 7:6, 7, 5a, 4a, 11a, 12.

See for a performance of his O rosa bella by soprano, harp and recorder.

Compare for a different performance and instrumentation of the same composition.


See for a performance by male voices of Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis. for a performance of his Salve Scema Sanctitatis.

See for a performance of his Motets – Veni sancte spiritus – Veni Creator.

See for an organ performance of Agincourt Hymn.

See for a performance by male voices of Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis.

See for recordings of his compositions available for purchase at Classical Archives.

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