Antoine Busnois

Antoine Busnois (also Busnoys) (c. 1430 – November 6, 1492) was a French composer and poet of the early Renaissance Burgundian School. While also noted as a composer of sacred music, such as motets, he was one of the most renowned 15th-century composers of secular chansons. He was the leading figure of the late Burgundian school after the death of Guillaume Dufay.


While details of his early life are largely conjectural, he was probably from the vicinity of Béthune in the Pas-de-Calais, possibly the hamlet of Busnes, to which his name seems to refer. He may have been related to the aristocratic family of Busnes; in particular, a Philippe de Busnes, canon of Notre-Dame in Lens, could have been a relative. He clearly received an excellent musical education, probably at a church choir school somewhere in northern or central France. An aristocratic origin may explain his early association with the French royal court: as early as the 1450s references to him appear there, and in 1461 he was a chaplain at Tours. That he was not entirely a man of peace is indicated by a petition for absolution he filed in Tours, dated February 28, 1461, in which he admitted to being part of a group that beat up a priest, "to the point of bloodshed", not one but five times. While in a state of anathema he was foolhardy enough to celebrate mass, an act which got him excommunicated; however Pope Pius II pardoned him.

He moved from the cathedral to the collegiate church of St. Martin, also in Tours, where he became a subdeacon in 1465. Johannes Ockeghem was treasurer at that institution, and the two composers seem to have known each other well. Later in 1465 Busnois moved to Poitiers, where he not only became "maîtrise" (master of the choirboys), but managed to attract a flood of talented singers from the entire region; by this time his reputation as singing teacher, scholar, and composer seems to have spread widely. However he departed just as suddenly as he came, in 1466; no reason was given, but the former maîtrise was given his old job back. Busnois then moved to Burgundy.

By 1467 Busnois was at the court of Burgundy, and he had begun composing for them immediately before the accession of Charles to the title of Duke on June 15, since one of his motets — in hydraulis — contains a dedication indicating that he was still Count. Charles, on becoming Duke of Burgundy, quickly became known as Charles the Bold, for his fierce and sometimes reckless military ambitions (which indeed led to his death in battle ten years later). In addition to his love of war, however, Charles loved music, and in his employ Busnois was appreciated and rewarded. Also in 1467 Busnois was listed along with Hayne van Ghizeghem and Adrien Basin as a "chantre et valet de chambre" to Charles.

In addition to his duties as a singer and a composer, Busnois accompanied the Duke on his military campaigns, as did Hayne van Ghizeghem. Busnois was at the siege of Neuss in Germany in 1475, and survived (or did not attend) the disastrous Battle of Nancy in 1477 at which Charles was killed and the expansion of Burgundy was forever stilled.

Busnois remained in the employ of the Burgundian court until 1482, but nothing exact is known about his exploits between then and 1492, when he died. At the time of his death, he was working for the church of St. Sauveur in Bruges. Throughout this time he was exceptionally well-known as a composer, and his music circulated widely.