Humanities Institute lecture: Alejandro Planchart “Venerabilis vir Guillermus Du Fay, Musicus: The Life of a Composer when ‘Composers’ did not Really Exist”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Scripps - Garrison Theater
Event Type
Scripps - Humanities Institute
Scripps Humanities Institute


“Venerabilis vir Guillermus Du Fay, Musicus: The Life of a Composer when ‘Composers’ did not Really Exist”
Alejandro Planchart
Emeritus Professor of Music
University of California at Santa Barbara

The view of the medieval composer that has evolved over the last two decades is that these men (for virtually all of them are men) were not “composers” in the way that term is understood today, but rather “singers” who occasionally produced “written music,” and that further, they were “clergymen” first, “men of letters” second (in the case of people like Guillaume de Machaut or Philippe de Vitry, who were celebrated mainly as poets), and “singers or musicians” third. The notion of the “composer” does not appear to have emerged until the very end of the fifteenth century and become established until the sixteenth century with the posthumous glorification of Josquin des Prez. The exception to this appears to be Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474). New discoveries about his life and the nature of his works, which have been preserved in greater quantity that those of any of his contemporaries, show that from the beginning he saw himself primarily as someone whose main “occupation” was to write music. This is one of the reasons of why so much of his music has survived, but also of the difficulties that he seems to have encountered throughout his career with what can be described as “the middle-level bureaucracy” of the ecclesiastical establishments of his time despite the immense fame that accrued to him from relatively early on.

Alejandro Enrique Planchart was born in Caracas in 1935 and pursued studies in piano, philosophy, and literature in his native city. Later he studied composition, piano, and harpsichord at Yale University (B.Mus. 1958, M.Mus. 1960). After four years working as a composer, conductor, and arranger in New York and New Haven, he entered Harvard to study music history (Ph.D. 1971) while continuing his work as a composer and conductor. In 1963 he founded an early music ensemble, Cappella Cordina. This ensemble became the de facto collegium musicum at Yale for about twelve years and later one of the ensembles of the collegium musicum at UCSB, which remained in operation until 2002. He taught music theory and history at Yale (1967-75) and the University of Victoria (1975-76). From 1976 to his retirement in 2002 he was in the faculty at UC Santa Barbara. He received a Morse Faculty Fellowship from Yale University in 1973 and was a Guggenheim fellow in 1987-88. His book The Repertory of Tropes at Winchester won the Gustave Arlt award in the Humanities from the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States in 1979. In 2006 he received the Howard M. Brown Award from Early Music America for lifetime contribution to the field of early music, and in 2009 he received the Arion Prize from the Cambridge Society for Early Music for his work on Guillaume Du Fay.

Scripps College Humanities Institute Spring 2013 Event Series - "Music, Dance, Ritual, and Belief: Transforming Societies."
Music and dance are basic elements of ritual and belief across the globe, valued for their capacity to communicate through both physical and spiritual realms. Join us this semester as we consider the interplay of tradition and self-expression in ritual and belief.

Scripps College Humanities Institute
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