Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: John Dunstable


One John Dunstable
Was the first to use the third:
Imperfect beauty.

Composer John Dunstable (sometimes spelled Dunstaple), 1390-1453, had a great influence on music beyond his native England.  Before Dunstable, when two voices sang in harmony, the notes were separated by the intervals of a fourth (the first two notes of Here Comes the Bride) or a fifth (the first two notes of the Theme from Star Wars) or a octave (the first two notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow) because these were considered “perfect.”  For a graphical explanation of intervals, go here to  These intervals give early music its distinctive sound.  Here is an example of a chant with parallel movement of notes a fourth apart.

Here is a less beautiful example, but one with which more people are probably acquainted.

Dunstable got the idea of using not only the interval of a third (the first two notes of When the Saints Go Marching In, major; or Greensleeves, minor), but groups of three notes (a triad), forming chords.  The third is considered imperfect because it can make a chord major or minor, giving it a different feel, happy or sad.  When we hear Dunstable’s music today, it sounds more familiar than ancient chant because our ears have become accustomed to major and minor chords.

Here is Dunstable’s Quam pulchra es.


2 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: John Dunstable

  1. You’re just checking to see if we’re listening to the examples. I would like to brag that I recognized one of your examples immediately. Alas it was not the Dunstable . . .


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