Gilles Binchois, classical music composer

Gilles Binchois image

Gilles Binchois


Gilles de Binche (called Binchois), also known as Gilles de Bins (ca. 1400 – 20 September 1460), was a Netherlandish composer, one of the earliest members of the Burgundian school and one of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century. While often ranked behind his contemporaries Guillaume Dufay and John Dunstable, at least by contemporary scholars, his influence was arguably greater than either, since his works were cited, borrowed and used as source material more often than those by any other composer of the time.

Binchois was probably from Mons, the son of Jean and Johanna de Binche, who may have been from the nearby town of Binche. His father was a councillor to Duke Guillaume IV of Hainault, and also worked in a church in Mons. Nothing is known about Gilles until 1419, when he became organist at the church of Ste. Waudru in Mons. In 1423 went to live in Lille. Around this time he may have been a soldier in the service of either the Burgundians or the English Earl of Suffolk, as indicated by a line in the funeral motet composed in his memory by Ockeghem.

Sometime near the end of the 1420s he joined the court chapel of Burgundy, and by the time of his motet Nove cantum melodie (1432) he was evidently a singer there, since the text of the motet itself lists all 19 singers in place at that time.

He eventually retired in Soignies, evidently with a substantial pension for his long years of excellent service to the Burgundian court.

Binchois is often considered to be the finest melodist of the 15th century, writing carefully shaped lines which are not only easy to sing but utterly memorable. His tunes appeared in copies decades after his death, and were often used as sources for Mass composition by later composers. Most of his music, even his sacred music, is simple and clear in outline, sometimes even ascetic; a greater contrast between Binchois and the extreme complexity of the ars subtilior of the prior (fourteenth) century would be hard to imagine. Most of his secular songs are rondeaux, which became the most common song form during the century. He rarely wrote in strophic form, and his melodies are generally independent of the rhyme scheme of the verses they are set to.

Binchois wrote music for the court, secular songs of love and chivalry that met the expectations and satisfied the taste of the Dukes of Burgundy who employed him, and evidently loved his music accordingly.



A contemporary of Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois was one of the most influential composers of the Burgundian School. Though Dufay and Dunstaple often receive the greater attention today, Binchois was arguably the better melodist of the three, producing memorable melodies that were often cited and parodied by later composers.

Little is known of Binchois's early life. It is assumed he was born around 1400 in Mons, the son of Jean de Binche, a councillor to Duke Guillaume IV of Hainaut, and Jaqueline of Bavaria. It is possible Binchois received his first training at the court of Mons. The first surviving record of Binchois's whereabouts, however, is from December 1419, when he became organist at the church of Ste. Waudru in Mons. After leaving this post in July 1423, Binchois may have spent time in Paris, and later, according to a motet composed by Ockeghem in his memory, served as a soldier. However, by the close of the decade, he joined the court chapel of Burgundy, and by 1431 was fifth in seniority. During his decades-long service at the Burgundian court, he composed a wealth of sacred music, though never became a priest, as well as a fair amount of secular music. He traveled little during this time, though he did return to Mons in 1449, placing him there at the same time as Dufay. In 1452, Binchois was granted a provostship at St.-Vincent in Soignies, and the following February he retired there. Binchois died on September 20, 1460. Both Dufay and Ockeghem composed laments in his memory.

Composer Title Date Action
Gilles Binchois Dueil angoisseux 12/30/2013 Play Add to playlist
Gilles Binchois Triste plaisir et douloureuse joye 12/30/2013 Play Add to playlist