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The age of Du Fay (c. 1400–1474) was a time of transition. Viewed both as the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the fifteenth century saw the continuation of the fourteenth-century chanson in the formes fixes and the birth of the new genre of the Mass Ordinary cycle. In the motet – the genre that occupies a middle position between the chanson and the Mass both in terms of size and place in the genre hierarchy – we see both continuity and change: while the fifteenth-century motet had strong roots in the fourteenth-century motet, it also underwent a radical transformation of style, text types, and texture over the course of the century. Study of the motet provides a unique view into the musical world of the fifteenth century.
Two related problems make study of the fifteenth-century motet difficult. The first is the radical transformation of the genre: from the late medieval motet to the motet of the Josquin generation – from a motet in which several new texts are sung simultaneously over a slow-moving tenor, to a motet in which a single pre-existent liturgical text is sung by all voices in a homogeneous contrapuntal texture. This transformation is not well understood. For the crucial decades around the middle of the century most of the surviving motets are anonymous, and many are not yet available in modern edition.