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Dedicated ostensibly and primarily to John the Baptist, Dunstaple’s Preco preheminencie surely also celebrates that other John, Henry’s brother the Duke of Bedford, and his rout of the French navy in 1416. Known otherwise only from its stipulation for the Chapel Royal’s memorial to St John the Baptist, aspects of the text of this motet are strongly suggestive: while its primary force is directed to the saintly John, the herald (preco) who preceded Christ, it is also easily susceptible to reading in reference to the actions of his fifteenth-century namesake in leading the English navy to victory and thereby ‘preparing a way’ for his kingly brother. The motet might well have been sung in Canterbury Cathedral in August 1416, in the presence of Henry and Emperor Sigismund, after the conclusion between them of the Treaty of Canterbury (though it seems perhaps unlikely that so sophisticated and intricate a piece could have been composed in such short order directly for this occasion).
from notes by Andrew Kirkman & Philip Weller © 2017