Gilles Binchois

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Binchois (left) holding a small harp and Guillaume Du Fay (right) beside a portative organ in a c. 1440 Illuminated manuscript copy of Martin le Franc's Le champion des dames[n 1]

Gilles de Bins dit Binchois (also spelled Binchoys; c. 1400 – 20 September 1460) was a Franco-Flemish composer in the Burgundian school of early Renaissance music. One of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century, Binchois was often ranked behind his contemporaries Guillaume Du Fay and John Dunstable by contemporary scholars, his works were still cited, borrowed and used as source material after his death.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Léal Souvenir by Jan van Eyck (1432). According to Erwin Panofsky, this could be the likeness of Binchois, though there is no widespread agreement for this identification[1]

The composer's full name is Gilles de Bins dit Binchois,[3] consisting of the byname 'Gilles de Bins' (also spelled 'Gilles de Bins') and the dit name Binchois (also spelled 'Binchoys').[4] Obituary records from St Vincent, Soignies name his parents as Johannes and Johanna de Binche, usually identified with Jean de Binch (d. 1425?) and his wife Jeanne, née Paulouche (d. 1426?).[5] His parents were of the upper class in Mons and probably from the town of Binche; his father was a councillor to Duke Guillaume IV of Hainault, and also worked in a church in Mons.[5] Their son Gilles Binchois has probably born in Mons, and the same city that the composer Orlande de Lassus would be born in next century.[5]

Nothing is known about Gilles until 1419, when he became an organist at the church of Ste. Waudru in Mons.[5] In 1423 went to live in Lille.[5] Around this time he may have been a soldier in the service of either the Burgundians or the English William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, as indicated by a line in the funeral motet composed in his memory by Johannes Ockeghem.[6][7] Sometime near the end of the 1420s he joined the court chapel of Burgundy, and by the time of his motet Nove cantum melodie (1432) he was evidently a singer there, since the text of the motet itself lists all 19 singers in place at that time.[8] He eventually retired in Soignies, evidently with a substantial pension for his long years of excellent service to the Burgundian court.[9]

Music and influence[edit]

Binchois is often considered to be the finest melodist of the 15th century, writing carefully shaped lines which are not only easy to sing but utterly memorable. His tunes appeared in copies decades after his death, and were often used as sources for Mass composition by later composers. Most of his music, even his sacred music, is simple and clear in outline, sometimes even ascetic; a greater contrast between Binchois and the extreme complexity of the ars subtilior of the prior (fourteenth) century would be hard to imagine. Most of his secular songs are rondeaux, which became the most common song form during the century. He rarely wrote in strophic form, and his melodies are generally independent of the rhyme scheme of the verses they are set to. Binchois wrote music for the court, secular songs of love and chivalry that met the expectations and satisfied the taste of the Dukes of Burgundy who employed him, and evidently loved his music accordingly. About half of his extant secular music is found in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Canon. misc. 213.[citation needed]

Modern musicologists generally hold Binchois, along with Du Fay and John Dunstable as the three major European composers of the early 15th-century.[2] Binchois, however, is usually ranked below the other two.[2] Du Fay is often considered the leading European composer of his lifetime,[10] and both had a longer career and produced more works than Binchois.[2] While Dunstaple was described by the musicologist Margaret Bent as "probably the most influential English composer of all time."[11] Reflecting on this, Fallows contends that regardless, "the extent to which [Binchois's] works were borrowed, cited, parodied and intabulated in the later 15th century implies that he had more direct influence than either [Du Fay or Dunstaple]".[2]

Aside from Du Fay and Dunstaple, important composer contemporaries of Binchois include Lionel Power, Hugo de Lantins and Arnold de Lantins.[3]


  1. ^ The illuminator of this depiction likely knew Du Fay and it is the best known of two surviving depictions of him. The other is carving on Du Fay's funeral monument where he is kneeling in the bottom left corner.[1]


  1. ^ a b Planchart 2004, §2 "Portraits".
  2. ^ a b c d e Fallows 2001, § "Introduction".
  3. ^ a b Strohm 2005, p. 129.
  4. ^ Britannica 2021, § para 1.
  5. ^ a b c d e Fallows 2001, §1 "Life", para 1.
  6. ^ Pryer 2011, § para 5.
  7. ^ Fallows 2001, §1 "Life", para 3.
  8. ^ Fallows 2001, §1 "Life", para 4.
  9. ^ Fallows 2001, §1 "Life", para 7.
  10. ^ Planchart 2004, § "Introduction".
  11. ^ Bent 1981, p. 9.


Further reading[edit]

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