Antoine Busnoys (c.1430-1492), sometimes spelled Busnois, was the leading songwriter of the late Burgundian style. Along with his unique stature in the courtly chanson genre, Busnoys was at least partly responsible for important innovations in sonority during ... [+]
Antoine Busnoys (c.1430-1492), sometimes spelled Busnois, was the leading songwriter of the late Burgundian style. Along with his unique stature in the courtly chanson genre, Busnoys was at least partly responsible for important innovations in sonority during the Ockeghem era. Based perhaps on his own skill as a singer, Busnoys extended the range of individual vocal parts, and pioneered contrapuntal textures in which each part operates in its own range and without interference from others. His use of extended lines, and especially sequence & imitation, proved decisive for the next generation of composers. In this, Busnoys' music illustrates the trends of the mid-to-late-1400s most clearly, and indeed his formal schemes were the most imitated by other composers. That Busnoys' music is relatively unknown today is an accident not in keeping with his contemporary reputation.
Busnoys may have been born in Busnes, and although much of his career is documented in some detail, his early life and training remain a mystery. By the 1450s, he was associated with the French royal court in the Loire valley, and by 1465 he held a post at St. Martin of Tours where Ockeghem was treasurer. He moved immediately to a post at Poitiers, leaving there by 1466. By 1467 he was in Burgundy, first in loose association with the court, and then in formal positions from 1470. There, he must have accompanied Charles the Bold's huge retinue into battle, and continued to serve Charles' daughter's husband Maximilian of Austria until 1483. From that point, nothing is known of Busnoys' activity until the announcement of his death. Although Busnoys obviously became acquainted with very powerful people, his specific appointments tend to be of a relatively low grade and his benefices in out-of-the-way locations. In 1461, he was even excommunicated for beating a priest, although he was later pardoned. His image becomes that of a renegade, a brilliant man with little regard for established authority. However, his professional reputation must have been enormous, as even at the most obscure churches, when Busnoys arrived, singers of considerable reputation immediately followed.
This arrogance is felt in Busnoys' music as well. For instance, although he did write the motet In hydraulis (c.1467) in praise of Ockeghem, he implicitly praises himself as well. His name appears numerous times in his other works, where he delighted in all manner of symbolism and misdirection: acrostics, puns, numerology, notational puzzles, etc. Despite what might seem to be an overly self-conscious style, Busnoys' music was & is fabulously successful, nearly unrivaled for its command of sonority and texture. Busnoys left approximately 75 songs (mostly rondeaux, several virelais, and a few songs in other forms, including in Italian), 10 motets, a Magnificat, 2 mass cycles, and an isolated Credo. He is the most-represented composer in nine major chansonniers, with works surviving in nearly every European country. He apparently wrote at least two thirds of his chansons by the time he left Poitiers, and it is chansons which form the bulk of his reputation. However, although small in quantity, Busnoys' motets & masses may have been as influential. Besides the famous Pythagorean proportions of In hydraulis, the "bell" sounds of Anthoni usque limina show his skillful use of sonority. Some anonymous motets of the period may also be his.
Busnoys is closely connected to the l'homme armé theme, which was to become one of the most important tests of contrapuntal invention. Busnoys may have written the original tune, and his mass cycle may have been the first on the theme. He may even be responsible for the cycle of six l'homme armé masses surviving anonymously in Naples. The rhythmic scheme Busnoys used in his mass was among the most-copied of the era, and indeed his command of rhythmic syncopation is much of what animates his style. Busnoys' formal innovations proved to be very successful, blending an interest in imitation & triadic harmony into carefully organized arching lines divided by ostinato & cross-rhythm. Besides his musical inventiveness, Busnoys had a full-fledged reputation as a poet, with 3 poems surviving in purely literary manuscripts. The various references in his songs and motets mark him as perhaps the most erudite musician of his age, and it has been suggested that he had a university education. Whether true or not, Busnoys' body of songs remains the most intellectually imposing of its generation.