The contenance angloise, or English countenance, was a group of musical characteristics identified by theorists of the 15th century as being English in origin. The booklet here names a primary one: a new emphasis on vertical sonority (or harmony) over the combination of contrapuntal lines that were complex in themselves. Another aspect of the English coutenance was the acceptance of the third rather than the "perfect" fourth as a consonant interval. For political reasons, and at a hard-to-define level for musical ones as well, British music gained a foothold in northwestern continental Europe at this time, and the results were of lasting importance in the Western musical tradition. Students in music history courses and casual attendees of Renaissance music concerts sometimes encounter the contenance angloise concept, and it's good to have a disc that examines it in more detail. This Swiss release by the multinational ensemble Chant 1450 covers the main composers involved: John Dunstable and before him Leonel Power on the English side, and above all Guillaume Dufay in the Low Countries. The English countenance is presented in sacred vocal, secular vocal, and instrumental manifestations, and the performances are uniformly attractive; the work of lutenis Marc Lewon in arrangements of various pieces from the Buxheim Organ Book is especially engaging. Those pieces, however, required a bit of justification for their inclusion, and none is forthcoming in the booklet notes (given in German, French, and English). In general the album doesn't do much to sort out the music: the strands of influence, the uses of the various genres, the sites where English music was received on the Continent. Even a group of pieces connected with Marian liturgies at the end doesn't really hang together; the notes make the point that the cult of Mary grew during this period, but if there's a connection to be made with musical developments it remains obscure here. The album may be more useful as a resource than as an item for general listeners; it will find a place in library collections, but for the general listener the program is a bit undifferentiated. The engineering is superb and ought to serve as an exemplar for other recordings of this type.
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