Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Robertson, Anne Walters. “The Man with the Pale Face, the Shroud, and Du Fay’s Missa Se la face ay pale.” Journal of Musicology 27 (Fall 2010): 377-434.

The meaning of Guillaume Du Fay’s Missa Se la face ay pale, based on his ballade of the same title, is best understood not through the suggestion that it was composed to celebrate the wedding of Amadeus of Savoy in 1452, but by linking its origins to the acquisition of the Holy Shroud (later called The Shroud of Turin) by Duke Louis of Savoy in 1453. Thus, the “pale face” is that of Christ, not the bridegroom. The wedding theory is unlikely because polyphonic masses were rarely composed for weddings in Du Fay’s lifetime, and because Du Fay’s ballade Se la face ay pale poetically presents a forlorn and bitter love atypical of wedding celebrations. Rather, Missa Se la face ay pale invites a Christological reading in which Christ is the man with the pale face and the Soul is his lover. Du Fay’s ballade text uses similar imagery to French Passion poetry, and the motif of Christ’s pale face was common in contemporary poetry and art. By using his ballade as the basis for a mass, Du Fay emphasizes these signs and imagery. The motivation for composing such a Christocentric mass was most likely the arrival of the Holy Shroud at the Court of Savoy, Du Fay’s patron. While using Se la face ay pale as a source directly suggests Christ’s face through its text, invoking its unusual five-syllable lines could also be a reference to the Five Wounds of Christ, relating to the image of Christ’s body on the Shroud. The singularity of the Holy Shroud further explains why other composers did not cultivate a Se la face ay pale mass tradition similar to the L’Homme armé tradition.

Works: Guillaume Du Fay: Missa Se la face ay pale (388-409, 424-33)

Sources: Guillaume Du Fay: Se la face ay pale (388-409, 424-33)

Index Classifications: 1400s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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