Contenance angloise

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The Contenance angloise, or English manner, is a distinctive style of polyphony developed in fifteenth-century England. It used full, rich harmonies based on the third and sixth. It was highly influential in the fashionable Burgundian court of Philip the Good and as a result on European music of the era in general. The leading figure was John Dunstaple, followed by Walter Frye and John Hothby.

Origins of the term[edit]

The phrase 'Contenance Angloise' was coined by Martin le Franc in a poem dedicated to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy (1396–1467) in 1441–42 to describe the distinctive musical style of the era. He mentioned English composer John Dunstaple (c. 1390–1453) as the key figure and as a major influence on the major Burgundian composers Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois.[1]


It is not clear exactly what Martin le Franc saw as the elements of the Contenance Angloise.[2] Musicologists have noted the style as a distinctive form of melodic polyphony that used full, rich harmonies based on the third and sixth, which may have made lyrics easier to articulate.[1]

Major composers[edit]

Although nearly all of John Dunstaple's manuscript music in England was lost during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536–40), some of his works have been reconstructed from copies found in continental Europe, particularly in Italy. The existence of these copies is testament to his widespread fame within Europe. He may have been the first composer to provide liturgical music with an instrumental accompaniment.[3]

This tradition was continued by figures such as Walter Frye (c. 1420–75), whose masses were recorded and highly influential in France and the Netherlands.[4] Similarly, John Hothby (c. 1410–87), an English Carmelite monk, who travelled widely and, although leaving little composed music, wrote several theoretical treatises, including La Calliopea legale; he is also credited with introducing innovations to the medieval pitch system.[5]


The influence of English composers on the continent seems to have declined towards the end of the fifteenth century. Having lost their major possessions in France and entering the Wars of the Roses, the English may have been more preoccupied with domestic matters and Franco-Flemish music became the dominant force in European music, and the distinctiveness of English music began to fade.[1]


  1. ^ a b c R. H. Fritze and W. Baxter Robison, Historical dictionary of late medieval England, 1272-1485 (Greenwood, 2002), p. 363.
  2. ^ J. Haines, A. Hughes and R. Rosenfeld. Music and Medieval Manuscripts: Palaeography and Performance : Essays Dedicated to Andrew Hughes (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), pp. 97-103.
  3. ^ S. Sadie and A. Latham, The Cambridge Music Guide(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 101-2.
  4. ^ J. Caldwell, The Oxford History of English Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 151-2.
  5. ^ T. Dumitrescu, The early Tudor court and international musical relations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 197-9.