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The Mureau family lived near Chartres. A Gilles Mureau appears in the archives in 1457 as a businessman in Bonneval, situated 25 km south of Chartres. He was the father of the musician who in all probability was sent to the Chartres Cathedral to be educated as a choirboy.(1) It is very likely that he spent his entire youth at the maîtrise of Chartres, but one may speculate that he, after his voice broke, was sent away a year or two for further studies at the university, probably in Orléans (Bonneval is situated between Chartres and Orléans). Such studies would qualify him for the functions he took over at the Chartres Cathedral in 1467 as maître de grammaire, teaching the choirboys their letters and music. In 1462 he is mentioned as heurier at the cathedral. This position involves singing at a specified number of daily services requiring professional musical participation.

The cathedral was served by a fixed number of qualified singers, 24 at maximum, who were members of the confraternity of horarii et matutinarii Ecclesiae Carnotensis (heuriers) which had existed since the 12th century.(2) Membership of this group appears to have been a lifelong occupation, which was easy to combine with other functions at the cathedral, and it secured the possessor a steady source of income. When Mureau in 1483 obtained permission to be absent from his posts to visit the Holy Land, the young Antoine Brumel was temporarily hired as Mureau’s competent replacement as heurier – at an unusually high pay. The heuriers were selected for their musical qualities and had to sing plainchant and polyphony, super librum as well as in the form of composed music, according to what was appropriate for the services. These also included processions, funerals and a wide variety of funded memorial services. In many of these functions they performed with the choirboys. The heuriers, who can be compared to the petit vicaires at Cambrai Cathedral, lived inside the cathedral cloisters but did not have to be ordained, even if a number among them actually were priests. They were often recruited from the ranks of former choirboys who had to be at least 18 years of age in order to try for a position among the singers.

This means that Mureau must have been a bit older than usually presumed. He must be born in the early 1440s in order to be securely placed as heurier in 1462 and to qualify as maître de grammaire in 1467. Furthermore, before 1472 he was installed as a canon at the cathedral, probably when he reached the canonical age of 30.(3)

His teaching post, which he shared with several other teachers in grammar and music during the years, as well as his responsibility for the administration of the maîtrise, seems to have been more or less permanent during his whole career. This secured him a comfortable living, and from early on he held valuable benefices bringing revenues from properties near Blois and Bourges. A further source of income was that he often took in sons of noblemen to board and look after in order to teach them language and grammar and the art of performing polyphonic music,“et aussi les enseigner et monstrer dechant aux mieulx qu’il pourra”, all agreed to in written contracts with the fathers.(4)

The boys of the maîtrise were in demand as musical performers also outside the cathedral, not only in religious institutions but in noble houses as well. The gifts that the boys received in recompenses for their performances had, according to the decision of the chapter, to be shared between the master of music and the master of grammar, the latter being responsible for the boys’ expenses.(5)

This draws up a picture of a person who spent his whole life in the service of the Chartres Cathedral. He probably had a very busy daily life singing at services, teaching grammar and music, occasionally officiating as celebrant at Mass, looking after his boarders, performing with the boys, and not least managing his in due course extensive land holdings – and he did not have much incentive for composing new music. The affluence created by his many activities made it possible for him to embark on two major journeys. From March to October 1483 he visited Jerusalem, and again the following year he was away for half a year on a pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostella. Returning from the last trip, he for a year or so filled in as organist of the cathedral. In June 1486 he took up again his normal position as master and administrator of les enfants de l’aube. He died in June 1512.

His career signals that music formed only a part of his life, that his talents to the same degree unfolded in the arts of language and words, in Latin, French, poetry and grammar, and in connection with his administrative capacities as a canon of the cathedral. His reputation as a musician may have depended more on his skills as a performer and as a teacher, as a man knowledgeable in music and poetry, than as a composer. This may be the reason why Eloy d’Amerval put Mureau on par with productive composers as Busnoys and Compere in the famous list of musicians in his enormous poem Le livre de Déablerie (1508). Eloy himself (c1430-1508) had an even shorter list of musical works to his credit. He spent much of his life in the Loire Valley, as singer in the chapel of Charles d’Orléans and maistre des enfans at St. Aignan in Orléans, and ended up as a canon in Chateaudun, not far from Chartres.(6)

Another musician in Mureau’s proximity was Johannes Tinctoris (c1435-1511) who according to his own account in De inventione et usu musicae spent some time in the 1460s as teacher of music to the choirboys at the Chartres Cathedral, probably teaching side by side with Mureau.(7) Their cooperation may have meant a lot to Tinctoris’ research into the basics and systematisation of music theory.(8)

PWCH, August 2011

1) All information concerning the biography of Mureau comes from André Pirro, ‘Gilles Mureau, chanoine de Chartres’ in Walther Lott, Helmuth Osthoff & Werner Wolffheim (eds.), Musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge, Festschrift für Johannes Wolf zu seinem sechzigsten Geburtstage, Berlin 1929, pp. 163-167.

2 Cf. Nicole Goldine, ‘Les heuriers-matiniers de la cathédrale de Chartres jusqu'au XVIe siècle. Organisation liturgique et musicale’, Revue de Musicologie 54 (1968), pp. 161-175.

3) Richard Freedman gives his birth date as “c1450” in ‘Mureau, Gilles’ in Grove Music Online (accessed May 2011).

4) A contract dated 1471 is reprinted in Abbé A. Clerval, Les écoles de Chartres au moyen du Ve au XVIe siècles. (Mémoires de la Société archéologique d’Eure-et-Loir, Tome XI), Chartres 1895, pp. 428-429.

5) Clerval, Les écoles, p. 430.

6) Cf. latest Paula Higgins, ‘Speaking of the Devil and Discipuli: Eloy d’Amerval, Saint-Martin of Tours, and Music in the Loire Valley, ca. 1465-1505’ in M. Jennifer Bloxam, Gioia Filocamo, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (eds.), Uno gentile et subtile ingenio. Studies in Renaissance Music in Honour of Bonnie J. Blackburn. CESR Tours 2009, pp. 169-182.

7) Cf. Ronald Woodley, ‘Johannes Tinctoris: A Review of the Documentary Biographical Evidence’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 34 (1981) pp. 217-248 (p. 229), and Tinctoris’ text at

8) See Rob C. Wegman, ‘Tinctoris’s Magnum opus’ in Bloxam, Filocamo, and Holford-Strevens, Uno gentile et subtile ..., pp. 771-782 (at p. 778 – Tinctoris was never choirmaster at Chartres, only a teacher).