Specially recorded by the BBC Singers (the BBC's own full-time professional choir, and one of the world's great vocal ensembles) conducted by their Conductor Laureate Stephen Cleobury, the timeline gives a bird's eye view of some of the peaks of the choral repertoire, of the developments in choral writing over the centuries, and of the music of some of the modern-day composers.
Guillaume Dufay (1400 - 74)
One of the foremost European composers of his day, the Franco-Flemish singer Guillaume Dufay was renowned as a teacher of others as well as a musician in his own right, and may have written this piece while remployed as a member of the papal choir in Rome.
It is based on, and embellishes, the ancient Latin plainsong hymn Ave maris stella (a song in praise of the Virgin Mary). Plainsong - one of the earliest forms of Western church music - consists of a single vocal line, sung unaccompanied and in free rhythm.
In Dufay's setting, the traditional plainsong is preserved in its original form for the dd-numbered verses of the hymn, but for the even-numbered ones Dufay gives the free-flowing notes of plainsong melody a swinging triple-time rhythm and adds two voices, sounding beneath it, which dance around in lively accompaniment.
Dufay controlled and styled all the different parts of his music perfectly, making the end result flowing and melodic. He also made the writing of 4- voice sacred pieces (as opposed to 3-part) more accepted, and later in life developed a unique harmonic style which would mark a huge change in future music.