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The designation Franco-Flemish School,           also called Netherlandish School, Burgundian School, Low Countries School, Flemish School, Dutch School, or Northern School, refers, somewhat imprecisely, to the style of polyphonic vocal music composition originating from France and from the Burgundian Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries as well as to the composers who wrote it. The spread of their technique, especially after the revolutionary development of printing, produced the first true international style since the unification of Gregorian chant in the 9th century. Franco-Flemish composers mainly wrote sacred music, primarily masses, motets, and hymns.
Several generations of Renaissance composers from the region loosely known as the Low Countries (Imperial and French fiefs ruled in personal union by the House of Valois-Burgundy in the period from 1384 to 1482)—i.e. present-day Northern France, Belgium and the Southern Netherlands—are grouped under "Franco-Flemish School", though a teacher-student-relationship between them rarely existed. Most of these musicians were born in the thriving Burgundian provinces of Artois, Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, or Limburg. Others were born in Northern and Southern France, like Guillaume Faugues, Simone de Bonefont and Antoine Brumel who was one of the most influential composers of his generation. During periods of political and economic stability, the courts of the Burgundian dukes were a centre of cultural activity in Europe.
Franco-Flemish composers had their origins in ecclesiastical choir schools such as at the cathedrals and collegiate churches of Saint-Quentin, Arras, Valenciennes, Douai, Bourges, Liège, Tournai, Cambrai, Mons, Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent, although they were famous for working elsewhere. Numerous musicians established themselves in French court or moved to the European courts in Italy where they were called "I fiamminghi" or Oltremontani ("those from over the Alps") and Spain—notably in the Flemish chapel (capilla flamenca) of the Habsburgs, or to towns in Germany, and other parts of Europe—Poland, the Czech lands, Austria, Hungary, England, Sweden, Denmark, Saxony—carrying their styles with them. The exact centres shifted during this time, and by the end of the sixteenth century the focal point of the Western musical world had moved from the Low Countries to Italy.
To conclude, let us recall that the expression "Franco-Flemish" and the more biased one of "Dutch school" are still controversial among musicologists. They were not in use at that time and seem to cover only part of the linguistic, political, territorial and historical reality.
Following are five groups, or generations, that are sometimes distinguished in the Franco-Flemish/Netherlandish school. Development of this musical style was continuous, and these generations only provide useful reference points.
Composed between 1450 and 1520, these motets were typically written for four voices, with all voices being equal. They often exhibit thick, dark textures, with an extended low range. The most notable composers of this style include Ockeghem and Josquin, whose De profundis clamavi ad te, composed between 1500 and 1521, provides a good example.
Gilles de Bins dit Binchois was a Franco-Flemish composer of early Renaissance music. A central figure of the Burgundian School, Binchois and his colleague Guillaume Du Fay were deeply influenced by the contenance angloise style of John Dunstaple. His efforts in consolidating a 'Burgundian tradition' would be important in the formation of the Franco-Flemish School. One of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century, Binchois is often ranked behind Du Fay and Dunstable by contemporary scholars, but his works were still widely cited, emulated and used as source material after his death.
Johannes Ockeghem was a Franco-Flemish composer and singer of early Renaissance music. Ockeghem was the most influential European composer in the period between Guillaume Du Fay and Josquin des Prez, and he was—with his colleague Antoine Busnois—the leading European composer in the second half of the 15th century. He was an important proponent of the early Franco-Flemish School.
The music of Belgium is a cultural mix where Flemish Dutch-speaking and Walloon French-speaking traditions mix with those of German minorities and of immigrant communities from Democratic Republic of the Congo or other distant countries.
Antoine Brumel was a French composer. He was one of the first renowned French members of the Franco-Flemish school of the Renaissance, and, after Josquin des Prez, was one of the most influential composers of his generation.
A chanson is generally any lyric-driven French song, though it most often refers to the secular polyphonic French song of late medieval and Renaissance music. The genre had origins in the monophonic songs of troubadours and trouvères, though the only polyphonic precedents were 16 works by Adam de la Halle and one by Jehan de Lescurel. Not until the ars nova composer Guillaume de Machaut did any composer write a significant number of polyphonic chansons.
Jacob Obrecht was a Flemish composer of masses, motets and songs. He was the most famous composer of masses in Europe of the late 15th century and was only eclipsed after his death by Josquin des Prez.
The Burgundian School was a group of composers active in the 15th century in what is now northern and eastern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, centered on the court of the Dukes of Burgundy. The school inaugurated the music of Burgundy.
Antoine Busnois was a French composer, singer and poet of early Renaissance music. Busnois and colleague Johannes Ockeghem were the leading European composers of the second half the 15th century, and central figures of the early Franco-Flemish School.
Alexander Agricola was a Netherlandish composer of the Renaissance writing in the Franco-Flemish style. A prominent member of the Grande chapelle, the Habsburg musical establishment, he was a renowned composer in the years around 1500, and his music was widely distributed throughout Europe. He composed music in all of the important sacred and secular styles of the time.
Pierre de la Rue was a Franco-Flemish composer and singer of the Renaissance. His name also appears as Piersson or variants of Pierchon and his toponymic, when present, as various forms of de Platea, de Robore, or de Vico. A member of the same generation as Josquin des Prez, and a long associate of the Habsburg-Burgundian musical chapel, he ranks with Agricola, Brumel, Compère, Isaac, Obrecht, and Weerbeke as one of the most famous and influential composers in the Netherlands polyphonic style in the decades around 1500.
Jean Richafort was a Netherlandish composer of the Renaissance, a member of the third generation of the Franco-Flemish School.
Gaspar van Weerbeke was a Netherlandish composer of the Renaissance. He was of the same generation as Josquin des Prez, but unique in his blending of the contemporary Italian style with the older Burgundian style of Dufay.
Francisco de Peñalosa was a Spanish composer of the middle Renaissance.
Jean Leleu, most commonly known by the latinized version of his name, Johannes Lupi, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. A representative of the generation after Josquin, he was a minor but skilled composer of polyphony who was mainly active in Cambrai.
Johannes Regis was a Netherlandish composer of the Renaissance. He was a well-known composer at the close of the 15th century, was a principal contributor to the Chigi Codex, and was secretary to Guillaume Dufay.
France has a rich music history that was already prominent in Europe as far back as the 10th century. French music originated as a unified style in medieval times, focusing around the Notre-Dame school of composers. This group developed the motet, a specific musical composition. Notable in the high Middle Ages were the troubadours and trouvères soon began touring France, composing and performing many original songs. The styles of ars nova and ars subtilior sprung up in the 14th century, both of which focused on secular songs. As Europe moved into the Renaissance age, the music of France evolved in sophistication. The popularity of French music in the rest of Europe declined slightly, yet the popular chanson and the old motet were further developed during this time. The epicenter of French music moved from Paris to Burgundy, as it followed the Burgundian School of composers. During the Baroque period, music was simplified and restricted due to Calvinist influence. The air de cour then became the primary style of French music, as it was secular and preferred by the royal court.
Jean L'Héritier was a French composer of the Renaissance. He was mainly famous as a composer of motets, and is representative of the generation of composers active in the early to middle 16th century who anticipated the style of Palestrina.
Johannes Pullois was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in both the Low Countries and Italy. He was one of the early generation of composers to carry the Franco-Flemish polyphonic style from its home region in the Netherlands to Italy.
The Harmonice Musices Odhecaton is an anthology of polyphonic secular songs published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1501 in Venice. It is the first book of polyphonic music ever to be printed using movable type. The Odhecaton was hugely influential both in publishing in general and in dissemination of the Franco-Flemish musical style.
The first decade of the 16th century marked the creation of some significant compositions. These were to become some of the most famous compositions of the century.