John Dunstable (1390-1453) was one of the leading English composers of the early 15th century. The English style of composition, in which he wrote, was the very foundation for tonal harmonization. Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis was a prime example of an English motet from the early Renaissance.

John Dunstable (1380-1453) - Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis

John Dunstable (1380-1453) - Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis

Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis



Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis demonstrated the new English style that appeared in the early Renaissance. A link to the score can be found at IMSLP: Dunstable, Sancta Maria

This work was a perfect example as to how the motet changed from the Medieval period to the Renaissance. The motet no longer relied on a cantus firmus, and instead became a polyphonic musical setting for chorus usually on a sacred, Latin text.

The use of intervals of a third and sixth can be heard throughout, and characterized the English sound of the era. The beginning and cadential figures in this motet, however, were mostly made up of open intervals such as octaves, perfect fourths and fifths (Note: In the first measure, all three voices begin on "C" and the harmony emerges in the upper voice). It was still common practice at the time to have open cadential sounds, but the music focused more on harmony and leading to a cadential point. The use of dissonance or notes outside of a key or mode (except leading tones) were rarely used in music at this time. This, indeed, seperated music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Original text:                                                            English translation:

Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis                              Holy Mary, there is no other woman

orta in mundo in mulieribus                                      in the world like you,

Florens ut rosa, flagrans sicut lilium,                       Flourishing like a rose, fragrant as a lily,

ora pronobis, sancta Dei genitrix.                            pray for us, holy mother of God.


In contrast to this work, Nuper rosarum flores, an isorhythmic motet written by another early Renaissance composer Guillaume du Fay, had similar qualities but ultimately an entirely different sound to Dunstable's motet. The text was still a sacred, Latin text like in Sancta Maria. The most noticable difference between these two motets was the voicing. In du Fay's motet, there are four voices. The upper two voices constantly stayed active throught the piece. The tenor and bass voices entered later, singing a cantus firmus line in canon with one another. 

The most noteworthy similarity in sound (aside from the intervals of thirds and sixths) appeared at cadential figures. At almost every cadence, the upper voice most often approached the figure from the leading tone below the resolution.


I chose this work because it was a short and easy to follow motet. I thought it was easy to see and hear the characteristics that define the early Renaissance (especially in English music). I also thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast two different motets of the same era by different major composers.


Dickey, Timothy. Nuper rosarum floresm isorhythmic motet for 4 voices. Allmusic, 2014

Du Fay, Guillaume. "Guillaume Dufay - Nuper rosarum flores" (video). Accessed February 4, 2014.

Dunstable, John. Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis.

Dunstable, John. "John Dunstable (1380-1453) - Sancta Maria, non est tibi similis" (video). October 15, 2009. Accessed February 4, 2014.

Nagley, Judith and John Milson. "Dunstaple, John." The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 4, 2014,