Birth: ca. 1390 in England [?]
Death: Dec 24, 1453 in London, England
Dunstaple's name suggests he may have been born in the town of Dunstable in Bedfordshire, England. Older scholarly literature on Dunstaple refers to him likewise as "Dunstable", however the spelling with a "p" is confirmed by all contemporary references relating to him, and in non-music manuscripts that bear what purports to be his signature. The birthdate of 1390 is surmised from the appearance of his earliest known datable works, the motets Veni sancte spiritus and Preco preheminencie, heard during the celebrations that followed in the wake of English King Henry V's victories in the Battle of Agincourt. These pieces were repeated at Canterbury Cathedral for the King and the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1416; this is the only connection that can be drawn between Dunstaple and Canterbury. This could suggest Canterbury composer Leonel Power; author of the Old Hall Manuscript, knew Dunstaple, and that Power may have been Dunstaple's teacher. The work of Dunstaple and Power is so similar that in several instances contemporary manuscript copies bear attributions to both composers for the same pieces.
Dunstaple disappears from the historical record until 1427, when it is established that he was then in France in the service of Henry V's younger brother John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford. Dunstaple is also shown to be in the retinue of the notorious dowager Queen, Joan of Navarre from 1428. The historical record relating to Dunstaple's service to the Plantagenets is unclear, but this may mean that Dunstaple traveled quite frequently between England and France, in service of both courts. During his travels abroad Dunstaple may have become acquainted with his greatest admirers, the Franco-Flemish composers Guilliaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois. Fifteenth-century treatises acknowledge the impact made by English music on French musicians during this period. This reflects the concurrent political situation as well, as much of the territory of France, including Paris itself, lay in English hands from 1420 to 1450, the final phase of the Hundred Years War. Dunstaple benefited directly from this situation when the Duke of Bedford died in 1435, as Bedford awarded to Dunstaple generous land grants in Normandy. Queen Joan remembered him a handsome annuity at her death in 1437. Dunstaple was also an astronomer of considerable acclaim in his day, and astronomical charts believed to be in his own hand yet survive. However, all of his music is only known in copies made by other scribes. Most of Dunstaple's music is preserved in sources located in Italy and Germany, rather than England, where just a scant remainder of contemporary examples remains.
Only a tiny fraction of Dunstaple's work is of the secular variety, and of these the most widely circulated piece, O Rosa bella, is now known to be the work of Dunstaple's younger contemporary John Bedyngham. Although Dunstaple's musical output is primarily sacred, there is no evidence to suggest that he held any post as a cleric. When Dunstaple died in 1453, he was both wealthy and famous, and his reputation as a composer survived well into the first part of the sixteenth century. Another presumed associate of Dunstaple's, John Wheathampstead, abbot of Saint Albans, composed two epitaphs to Dunstaple's memory, one of which reads "with (Dunstaple) as judge, Urania learned how to unfold the secrets of Heaven. This man was your glory, O Music; who had dispersed your sweet art through the world. The 'star' transmigrates to the stars; may the citizens of Heaven receive him as one of their own."
- David Lewis (All Music Guide)