Dufay’s Missa de Sancti Anthonii de Padua


St Anthony of Padua held a very particular significance in the devotions of Guillaume Dufay. The single holy relic in his possession was a piece of the Saint’s belt, or girdle, listed among the ‘jewels’ in the account of the executors of his will. But the main expression of his veneration was undoubtedly the Mass which he composed to honour St Anthony—the glorioso comite (‘glorious companion’) of the Alleluia. The beauty and invention of this Mass is unmistakable even today, half a millennium after its composition. Although, as we shall see, the pathos which from time to time breaks through its glittering surface bespeaks a deeply personal involvement in the music, this involvement extends far beyond the aesthetic concerns which drive our admiration of it today.

One particularly personal example by Dufay bears, as shall be seen, an intimate connection with his Mass for St Anthony. Other saints were chosen for their personal associations with the individuals themselves. We do not know the reasons behind Dufay’s personal veneration of St Anthony, though they could well date back to his early years in Italy, perhaps to the time, in the late 1420s and 1430s, when he was a singer in the Papal choir.

When death did come one had to be fully prepared, a task made all the more difficult because no one knew how or when it would strike. For medieval man the knowledge that ‘in the midst of life there is death’ was more than just a conceit; it was an ever-present consciousness. Such awareness finds its expression in every medieval testament, but Dufay’s own will, drawn up in 1474, the year of his death, encapsulates it with particular eloquence:

Our days have declined like a shadow and like water running down we are drawn to death with rapid steps; but though the necessity thereof be certain for all men, yet there is none that knoweth the day, or how it shall come, nor is aught happier in men’s lot—nay, there is no other happiness but this—than to close this present life with a good end. In order to attain this the more easily a man does prudently if before then, while he still enjoys good health, he takes thought for the disposal of his earthly goods, lest when he ought rather to raise his heart upwards, heavy cares come upon him, by which the mind, concerning itself with the lowest matters, is pulled back from the contemplation of its maker and the supreme good.[1]


Much of what Du Fay wrote between 1439 and 1450 is lost, and what survives presents problems in terms of dating and transmission. Works from this period include two isorhythmic motets, Moribus et genere and Fulgens iubar, the first probably written in 1442 for the visit of Bishop Jean of Burgundy to Cambrai, and the second dated either 1442 (Fallows, 1982) or 1447 (Planchart, 1995). The song Seigneur Leon was probably written as a homage to Leonello d’Este on his accession as Marquis of Ferrara in 1442, and the Missa S Antonii de Padua, probably composed for the dedication of Donatello’s altar in the basilica of S Antonio in Padua on 13 June 1450 (Fallows, 1982), thus dates from the end of this period.[2]

For many years it was believed that the Mass for St Anthony of Padua had been lost. Quotations by the theorist Tinctoris from a collection of Mass Ordinary movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) ascribed to Dufay in a manuscript in Trent, Italy, refer to them as excerpts from the ‘Mass of St Anthony’. However, this was long thought to be the composer’s Mass for St Anthony Abbot, also referred to in his will. About fifteen years ago, however, this assumption was proven to be mistaken: David Fallows demonstrated that examples in a later treatise by Giovanni Spataro from Dufay’s ‘Missa de Sancto Antonio de Padua’ were drawn from the same work.

From Spataro, then, it was clear that at least parts of the Mass for St Anthony of Padua had survived. Yet the fact that this was a Mass for a particular saint implied that it also originally included ‘Proper’ movements setting texts dedicated specifically to that saint. Although no such movements ascribed to Dufay had survived, a great deal of circumstantial information pointed to an anonymously copied collection of Propers for St Anthony of Padua in another Trent manuscript. Here again, Fallows was able to marshal evidence from Spataro: the theorist refers to a very unusual change of mensuration (time-signature) ‘in the verse’ of Dufay’s Mass for St Anthony of Padua. Exactly this change occurs in the verse of the Gradual in the Trent cycle.[3]

4152d1axqflThere are two recordings of the Anthony of  Padua mass, one by Andrew Kirkman/Binchois Consort on Hyperion and one by Alexander Blachly/Pomerium  on Arkiv (now out of print but still available).  Aside from different filler material the main difference is in the make-up of the two ensembles.  Kirkman uses an male group with countertenors and Blachly includes women sopranos for the high voices.

514fgwf12l-_sy355_Kirkman added a fine performance of the isorhythmic motet for the saint, a more appropriate filler than the hymn Blachly chose. Blachly’s vocal ensemble had a warmer sound than Kirkman’s six-voice group, but the latter used period pronunciation.[4]

[1] Andrew Kirkman, “Booklet: Music for St Anthony of Padua”, CD: Hyperion CDH55271 (1996).

[2] Alejandro Enrique Planchart. “Du Fay, Guillaume.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 27, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/08268.

[3] Andrew Kirkman, “Booklet: Music for St Anthony of Padua”, CD: Hyperion CDH55271 (1996).

[4] J. F. Weber, “Review: Missa de Sancti Anthonii de Padua. O proles Hispaniae”, Andrew Kirkman, dir; Binchois Consort, HELIOS 55271 (1996).

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