ANTOINE BRUMEL (1460 - 1513)
Antoine Brumel was certainly one of the most important composers in his time, mentioned by writers such as Eloy d’Amerval, Ornithoparchus, Heyden, Rabelais, Gaffurio, Glareano, Coclico, Finck, Zarlino, Morley and even the macaronic-goliardic poet Teofilo Folengo. He was probably the most illustrious victim of a musicological
discipline traditionally centred on the figure of Josquin Desprez.
Brumel was the first great French rather than Flemish Renaissance composer. It seems that he was born near Nogent-le-Rotrou (the town may have been called “Brumel”), and his name appears for the first time in 1483 in Chartres, where he served as an altar boy at the Cathedral, with the title horarius et matutinarius. There can be absolutely no doubt as to how much Brumel was admired if, in 1501, Duke Filiberto il Bello appointed him cantor to the Ducal Chapel, enthusiastically extolling his worth and merits, and confirming this with a very high salary. His fame was increasingly widespread and this is confirmed by the performance of his works throughout Europe: Palestrina ordered his Masses to be sung in Rome and, in 1508, when Luther arrived in Wittenberg, his music was performed with compositions by Desprez and De la Rue, in the Saxony Chapel of Duke Friedrich the Wise.
The most important period in Brumel's life was spent in Italy, where Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, engaged the Frenchman “per tutta la vita” (for life). Brumel, then, followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Jacob Obrecht, working there and at the Savoy Court. It is thought that Brumel received up to two hundred ducats a year, with fifty ducats for travel and lodgings in Ferrara, while Willaert only earned seventy ducats a year in Venice in 1527.
There is gap in what history tells us about the composer that musicologists have still not filled. The Court Chapel in Ferrara was disbanded in 1510, and after that date there is no definite information about Brumel’s artistic activities: a document dated 11th March 1512 suggests that at that time he was the Archpriest to the united churches of S. Johannes in Libya and S. Sabina in Faenza, and that he also probably went to Mantua. The last traces of the composer are to be found in an essay by Vincenzo Galilei, who recognised Brumel in Rome amongst all the other French and Flemish composers, at the election of Pope Leo X in 1513.
Brumel was one of the few composers who, by a remarkable blending of dissimilar elements, helped create the Renaissance language, in a period in which the influence of the Flemish School on the Italian frottola was already evident and the madrigalistic ferment was just beginning. The crystallisation of dissonances and the freedom in writing their resolution, which we nowadays link to the style of Palestrina, were already present and codified in Brumel's compositions.