Motet: Quam pulchra es
John Dunstable (ca. 1390-1453)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 2 Track 12
Mr. Dunstable found freedom in confinement. Disdaining the organization of other medieval music, John has limited the possibilities for his motet. And, inspired by some of the most beautiful text available to composers during his lifetime and ours, John then restricted the motion of this music to the motion of the text. Unlike motets preceding this example, this piece is a presentation of text rather than music constructed from text. The ideas are different enough that what was once dissonance becomes consonance.
This is particularly true in the harmonic language of this piece. The sixth chord, so pretty to our modern ears, was labeled an appalling dissonance by Anonymous IV. Here, fauxbourdon abounding, the sixth chord and the third serve to relax and beautify.
What I like about this motet is John's presentation of the text. At the moment when the text is about to turn from an adoration of the beloved to an invitation, the voices are silent. Our narrator takes a few beats to muster courage before carefully asking the beloved to join him for a romp with the pomegranates. And once this invitation is established the pace quickens as our narrator describes his idea of what such a romp includes.