Firminus Caron

Firminus Caron

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Firminus Caron (fl. 1460 – 1475) was a French
Music of France
France has a wide variety of indigenous folk music, as well as styles played by immigrants from Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the field of classical music, France has produced a number of legendary composers, while modern pop music has seen the rise of popular French hip hop, techno/funk,...

 composer, and likely a singer, of the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

. While highly successful as a composer and influential, especially on the development of imitative
Imitation (music)
In music, imitation is when a melody in a polyphonic texture is repeated shortly after its first appearance in a different voice, usually at a different pitch. The melody may vary through transposition, inversion, or otherwise, but retain its original character...

 counterpoint
Counterpoint
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

, and while numerous compositions of his survive, he is almost unique in there being an almost complete absence of direct biographical information about him. Most of what is known about his life and career is inferred.

Life


He may have come from Amiens
Amiens
Amiens is a city and commune in northern France, north of Paris and south-west of Lille. It is the capital of the Somme department in Picardy...

, based on the commonness of the name "Firmin" there, as well as the presence of a Firminus Caron in the Amiens cathedral choir in 1422 (conjectured to be the composer's father, unless he was extraordinarly long-lived for the time). Some writers of the time, including Johannes Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris was a Flemish composer and music theorist of the Renaissance. He is known to have studied in Orléans, and to have been master of the choir there; he also may have been director of choirboys at Chartres...

, praised Caron. Most of Caron's music survives in Italian
Music of Italy
The music of Italy ranges across a broad spectrum of opera and instrumental classical music and a body of popular music drawn from both native and imported sources. Music has traditionally been one of the cultural markers of Italian national and ethnic identity and holds an important position in...

 manuscripts, leading to the hypothesis that he may have spent some time in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, a common destination for composers from northern Europe: however many compositions by French composers made their way to Italian manuscripts without being carried there by their composers, so this is not certain.

In 1472 and 1473, Caron is mentioned by Loyset Compère
Loyset Compère
Loyset Compère was a French composer of the Renaissance. Of the same generation as Josquin des Prez, he was one of the most significant composers of motets and chansons of that era, and one of the first musicians to bring the light Italianate Renaissance style to France.-Life:His exact place of...

 alongside Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century.-Early life:From the evidence of his will, he was probably born in Beersel, in the vicinity of...

, and stylistic similarities between the two composers suggests a relation. In addition, one of Caron's masses appears in a Cambrai manuscript dated to 1472 or 1473, the year before Dufay's death there. Caron may have been in Cambrai in the early 1470s and known Dufay, but even that is not certain. References to Caron in writings by music theorists appear as late as 1556, in the writings of German Hermann Finck
Hermann Finck
Hermann Finck was a German composer.The great-nephew of composer Heinrich Finck, Hermann was born in Pirna, and died at Wittenberg. After 1553 he lived at Wittenberg, where he was organist, and there, in 1555, was published his collection of wedding songs...

, indicating the spread and duration of his reputation. Johannes Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris
Johannes Tinctoris was a Flemish composer and music theorist of the Renaissance. He is known to have studied in Orléans, and to have been master of the choir there; he also may have been director of choirboys at Chartres...

, whose writings are a rich source on 15th century composers and music theory
Music theory
Music theory is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identify patterns and structures in composers' techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods...

, extravagantly praises Caron's music, but also mentions that he was poorly educated.

Music and influence


Caron left both sacred and secular music, including five masses
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

 and numerous secular songs.

One of the earliest masses based on the famous tune L'homme armé
L'homme armé
L'homme armé was a French secular song from the time of the Renaissance. It was the most popular tune used for musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass: over 40 separate compositions entitled Missa L'homme armé survive from the period....

is by Caron, and survives in an early 1460s Vatican
Vatican Library
The Vatican Library is the library of the Holy See, currently located in Vatican City. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 codices from...

 manuscript along with L'homme armé masses by several other composers. In Caron's setting the tune is transposed to Dorian mode
Dorian mode
Due to historical confusion, Dorian mode or Doric mode can refer to three very different musical modes or diatonic scales, the Greek, the medieval, and the modern.- Greek Dorian mode :...

 and elaborated considerably; the upper voices often sing in two-part imitation.

Most of his secular songs were in French, and for three voices, and most survive from Italian manuscripts. Most are rondeaux
Rondeau (music)
The rondeau was a Medieval and early Renaissance musical form, based on the contemporary popular poetic rondeau form. It is distinct from the 18th century rondo, though the terms are likely related...

, and most are in duple meter. One of his songs, Helas que pourra devenir, was extraordinarly famous, and was the second-most-widely distributed song in manuscript sources of the third quarter of the 15th century (De tous biens plaine, by Hayne van Ghizeghem
Hayne van Ghizeghem
Hayne van Ghizeghem was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance Burgundian School.While many of his works have survived, little is known about his life...

, was the first). It is unusual among songs of the time in using very close imitation
Imitation (music)
In music, imitation is when a melody in a polyphonic texture is repeated shortly after its first appearance in a different voice, usually at a different pitch. The melody may vary through transposition, inversion, or otherwise, but retain its original character...

, and it seems to have initiated a trend. David Fallows, writing in the New Grove, hypothesises that it may have originated as an instrumental fantasy
Fantasia (music)
The fantasia is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation. Because of this, it seldom approximates the textbook rules of any strict musical form ....

.