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Josquin Desprez
 
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin Desprez — often known simply as Josquin — is the centrepiece of this period, the greatest composer of the Franco-Flemish School and ot the early Renaissance. Regarded highly within the music world, as much during his lifetime as after his death, he is considered the equal in his own era of Bach or Beethoven in theirs. More than any other composer before him, Josquin made the available compositional techniques his own, at the same time adding a great breadth of imagination to the craft of writing music. Born in Burgundian territories in northern France, Josquin followed in the footsteps of many of his illustrious Franco-Flemish predecessors and travelled south to Italy. From 1459 to 1472 he was a singer at Milan Cathedral, and, following that, at the ducal court of the Sforza family in Milan. Moving to Rome, he became a member of the Papal choir in 1486, where he remained for more than ten years. He spent some time as court composer to King Louis XII of France, and then moved back to Italy, where he became director of music at the court of Duke Hercules of Ferrara - and the highest-paid court member ever. He returned to France in 1504 and finally became provost of Notre Dame in Conde-sur-l'Escaut; there he remained for the rest of his life. Josquin may have been a pupil of Ockeghem's. He certainly built on Ockeghem's mastery of the complex harmonies and sophisticated techniques that were typical of the Netherlands composers; a flexibility and fluency in his style is evidence of Italian influence. He wrote in the customary forms ot the time — the Mass, motets and chansons - yet he achieved a freer expression of emotion, employing the technique of "word-painting" to convey feelings. Word-painting matches the sound of the music to the meaning of the text: for example, Latin words such as desceiidit or ascendit might he supplied with music that descended or ascended (as in the Miserere motet), thus emphasizing the emotional qualities of the work. The music of the late medieval composers had been concerned with intellectual ingenuity and almost mathematical complexity: with Josquin, music became harnessed to the emotional needs of the text, so that for the first time, a listener could gain an idea simply from the sound of the music (rather than the words) what it was about. Though his output was prolific and wide-ranging, one of the highest peaks of Josquin's career was his Missa Pange lingua, with its rich harmonies, inventiveness, and melodic subtleties. A favoured form of composition of the time was the "Missa Parodia" (parody Mass), in which the parts from an existing work — secular or sacred — were used as the basis for a new piece. Josquin used this technique in Masses such as Malheiir me bat, based on a chanson by Ockeghem, and L'homme anne, probably based on an old crusader song. Josquin was one of the first composers to use passages from the Old Testament as a basis for motets, where his individuality came to the fore. In his motets and chansons he frequently composed for four parts, achieving great depth and a wide vocal range, as well as a variety of moods. The spirituality and compassion that he managed to portray took music out of the Middle Ages, and made Josquin the first composer truly to fulfil the criteria of the Renaissance movement.
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin des Prez
 
 
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] (French pronunciation: ​[ʒɔskɛ̃ depʁe]; c. 1450/1455 – 27 August 1521), often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He is also known as Josquin Desprez and Latinized as Josquinus Pratensis, alternatively Jodocus Pratensis. He himself spelled his name "Josquin des Prez" in an acrostic in his motet Illibata Dei virgo nutrix. He was the most famous European composer between Guillaume Dufay and Palestrina, and is usually considered to be the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. Josquin is widely considered by music scholars to be the first master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music that was emerging during his lifetime.

During the 16th century, Josquin gradually acquired the reputation as the greatest composer of the age, his mastery of technique and expression universally imitated and admired. Writers as diverse as Baldassare Castiglione and Martin Luther wrote about his reputation and fame; theorists such as Heinrich Glarean and Gioseffo Zarlino held his style as that best representing perfection. He was so admired that many anonymous compositions were attributed to him by copyists, probably to increase their sales. More than 370 works are attributed to him; it was only after the advent of modern analytical scholarship that some of these mistaken attributions have been challenged, on the basis of stylistic features and manuscript evidence. Yet in spite of Josquin's colossal reputation, which endured until the beginning of the Baroque era and was revived in the 20th century, his biography is shadowy, and we know next to nothing about his personality. The only surviving work which may be in his own hand is a graffito on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, and only one contemporary mention of his character is known, in a letter to Duke Ercole I of Ferrara. The lives of dozens of minor composers of the Renaissance are better documented than the life of Josquin.

Josquin wrote both sacred and secular music, and in all of the significant vocal forms of the age, including masses, motets, chansons and frottole. During the 16th century, he was praised for both his supreme melodic gift and his use of ingenious technical devices. In modern times, scholars have attempted to ascertain the basic details of his biography, and have tried to define the key characteristics of his style to correct misattributions, a task that has proved difficult, as Josquin liked to solve compositional problems in different ways in successive compositions—sometimes he wrote in an austere style devoid of ornamentation, and at other times he wrote music requiring considerable virtuosity. Heinrich Glarean wrote in 1547 that Josquin was not only a "magnificent virtuoso" (the Latin can be translated also as "show-off") but capable of being a "mocker", using satire effectively. While the focus of scholarship in recent years has been to remove music from the "Josquin canon" (including some of his most famous pieces) and to reattribute it to his contemporaries, the remaining music represents some of the most famous and enduring of the Renaissance.

 
 
 
Life
Birth and early careerLittle is known for certain of Josquin's early life. Much is inferential and speculative, though numerous clues have emerged from his works and the writings of contemporary composers, theorists, and writers of the next several generations. Josquin was born in the area controlled by the Dukes of Burgundy, and was possibly born either in Hainaut (modern-day Belgium), or immediately across the border in modern-day France, since several times in his life he was classified legally as a Frenchman (for instance, when he made his will). Josquin was long mistaken for a man with a similar name, Josquin de Kessalia, born around the year 1440, who sang in Milan from 1459 to 1474, dying in 1498. More recent scholarship has shown that Josquin des Prez was born around 1450 or a few years later, and did not go to Italy until the early 1480s.

Around 1466, perhaps on the death of his father, Josquin was named by his uncle and aunt, Gilles Lebloitte dit Desprez and Jacque Banestonne, as their heir. Their will gives Josquin's actual surname as Lebloitte. According to Matthews and Merkley, "des Prez" was a nickname.

According to an account by Claude Hémeré, a friend and librarian of Cardinal Richelieu whose evidence dates as late as 1633, and who used the records of the collegiate church of Saint-Quentin, Josquin became a choirboy at Saint-Quentin, probably around 1460, and was in charge of its music. Doubt has been cast on the accuracy of Hémeré's account, however. He may have studied counterpoint under Ockeghem, whom he greatly admired throughout his life: this is suggested both by the testimony of Gioseffo Zarlino and Lodovico Zacconi, writing later in the 16th century, and by Josquin's eloquent lament on the death of Ockeghem in 1497, Nymphes des bois/Requiem aeternam, based on the poem by Jean Molinet. All records from Saint-Quentin were destroyed in 1669; however the cathedral there was a center of music-making for the entire area, and in addition was an important center of royal patronage. Both Jean Mouton and Loyset Compère were buried there, and it is certainly possible that Josquin acquired his later connections with the French royal chapel through early experiences at Saint-Quentin.

The first definite record of his employment is dated 19 April 1477, and it shows that he was a singer at the chapel of René, Duke of Anjou, in Aix-en-Provence. He remained there at least until 1478. No certain records of his movements exist for the period from March 1478 until 1483, but if he remained in the employ of René he would have transferred to Paris in 1481 along with the rest of the chapel. One of Josquin's early motets, Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo, suggests a direct connection with Louis XI, who was king during this time. In 1483 Josquin returned to Condé to claim his inheritance from his aunt and uncle, who may have been killed by the army of Louis XI in May 1478, when they besieged the town, locked the population into the church, and burned them alive.

Milan
The period of 1480 to 1482 has puzzled biographers: some contradictory evidence exists, suggesting either that Josquin was still in France, or was already in the service of the Sforza family, specifically with Ascanio Sforza, who had been banished from Milan and resided temporarily in Ferrara or Naples. Residence in Ferrara in the early 1480s could explain the Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae, composed for Ercole d'Este, but which stylistically does not fit with the usual date of 1503–4 when Josquin was known to be in Ferrara. Alternatively it has been suggested that Josquin spent some of that time in Hungary, based on a mid-16th century Roman document describing the Hungarian court in those years, and including Josquin as one of the musicians present.

In either 1483 or 1484 Josquin is known to have been in the service of the Sforza family in Milan. While in their employ, he made one or more trips to Rome, and possibly also to Paris; while in Milan he made the acquaintance of Franchinus Gaffurius, who was maestro di cappella of the cathedral there. He was in Milan again in 1489, after a possible period of travel; but he left that year.

Rome
From 1489 to 1495 Josquin was a member of the papal choir, first under Pope Innocent VIII, and later under the Borgia pope Alexander VI. He may have gone there as part of a singer exchange with Gaspar van Weerbeke, who went back to Milan at the same time. While there, he may have been the one who carved his name into the wall of the Sistine Chapel; a "JOSQUINJ" was recently revealed by workers restoring the chapel. Since it was traditional for singers to carve their names into the walls, and hundreds of names were inscribed there during the period from the 15th to the 18th centuries, it is considered highly likely that the graffiti is by Josquin – and if so, it would be his only surviving autograph.

Josquin's mature style evolved during this period; as in Milan he had absorbed the influence of light Italian secular music, in Rome he refined his techniques of sacred music. Several of his motets have been dated to the years he spent at the papal chapel.

Departure from Rome; Milan and France
Around 1498 Josquin most likely re-entered the service of the Sforza family, on the evidence of a pair of letters between the Gonzaga and Sforza families. He probably did not stay in Milan long, for in 1499 Louis XII captured Milan in his invasion of northern Italy and imprisoned Josquin's former employers. Around this time Josquin most likely returned to France, although documented details of his career around the turn of the 16th century are lacking. Prior to departing Italy he most likely wrote one of his most famous secular compositions, the frottola El grillo, as well as In te Domine speravi ("I have placed my hope in you, Lord"), based on Psalm 30. The latter composition may have been a veiled reference to the religious reformer Girolamo Savonarola, who had been burned at the stake in Florence in 1498, and for whom Josquin seems to have had a special reverence; the text was the Dominican friar's favorite psalm, a meditation on which he left incomplete in prison prior to his execution.

Some of Josquin's compositions, such as the instrumental Vive le roy, have been tentatively dated to the period around 1500 when he was in France. A motet, Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo ("Remember thy promise unto thy servant"), was, according to Heinrich Glarean writing in the Dodecachordon of 1547, composed as a gentle reminder to the king to keep his promise of a benefice to Josquin, which he had forgotten to keep. According to Glarean's story, it worked: the court applauded, and the king gave Josquin his benefice. Upon receiving it, Josquin reportedly wrote a motet on the text Benefecisti servo tuo, Domine ("Lord, thou hast dealt graciously with thy servant") to show his gratitude to the king.

 
 
Ferrara
Josquin probably remained in the service of Louis XII until 1503, when Duke Ercole I of Ferrara hired him for the chapel there. One of the rare mentions of Josquin's personality survives from this time. Prior to hiring Josquin, one of Duke Ercole's assistants recommended that he hire Heinrich Isaac instead, since Isaac was easier to get along with, more companionable, was more willing to compose on demand, and would cost significantly less (120 ducats vs. 200). Ercole, however, chose Josquin.

While in Ferrara, Josquin wrote some of his most famous compositions, including the austere, Savonarola-influenced Miserere, which became one of the most widely-distributed motets of the 16th century; the utterly contrasting, virtuoso motet Virgo salutiferi; and possibly the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, which is written on a cantus firmus derived from the musical letters in the Duke's name, a technique known as soggetto cavato.

Josquin did not stay in Ferrara long. An outbreak of the plague in the summer of 1503 prompted the evacuation of the Duke and his family, as well as two thirds of the citizens, and Josquin left by April of the next year, possibly also to escape the plague. His replacement, Jacob Obrecht, died of the plague in the summer of 1505, to be replaced by Antoine Brumel in 1506, who stayed until the disbanding of the chapel in 1510.

Retirement to Condé-sur-l'Escaut
Josquin went directly from Ferrara to his home region of Condé-sur-l'Escaut, southeast of Lille on the present-day border between Belgium and France, becoming provost of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame on 3 May 1504, a large musical establishment that he headed for the rest of his life. While the chapter at Bourges Cathedral asked him to become master of the choirboys there in 1508, it is not known how he responded, and there is no record of his having been employed there; most scholars presume he remained in Condé.

During the last two decades of his life, Josquin's fame spread abroad along with his music. The newly-developed technology of printing made wide dissemination of his music possible, and Josquin was the favorite of the first printers: one of Petrucci's first publications, and the earliest surviving print of music by a single composer, was a book of Josquin's masses which he printed in Venice in 1502. This publication was successful enough that Petrucci published two further volumes of Josquin's masses, in 1504 and 1514, and reissued them several times.

On his death-bed Josquin asked that he be listed on the rolls as a foreigner, so that his property would not pass to the Lords and Ladies of Condé. This bit of evidence has been used to show that he was French by birth. Additionally, he left an endowment for the performance of his late motet, Pater noster/Ave Maria, at all general processions in the town when they passed in front of his house, stopping to place a wafer on the marketplace altar to the Holy Virgin. Pater noster may have been his last work.
 

Music

Overview

Josquin lived during a transitional stage in music history. Musical styles were changing rapidly, in part owing to the movement of musicians between different regions of Europe. Many northern musicians moved to Italy, the heart of the Renaissance, attracted by the Italian nobility's patronage of the arts; while in Italy, these composers were influenced by the native Italian styles, and often brought those ideas with them back to their homelands. The sinuous musical lines of the Ockeghem generation, the contrapuntal complexity of the Netherlanders, and the homophonic textures of the Italian lauda and secular music began to merge into a unified style; indeed Josquin was to be the leading figure in this musical process, which eventually resulted in the formation of an international musical language, of which the most famous composers included Palestrina and Lassus.

Josquin likely learned his craft in his home region in the North, in France, and then in Italy when he went to Milan and Rome. His early sacred works emulate the contrapuntal complexity and ornamented, melismatic lines of Ockeghem and his contemporaries, but at the same time he was learning his contrapuntal technique he was acquiring an Italianate idiom for his secular music: after all, he was surrounded by Italian popular music in Milan. By the end of his long creative career, which spanned approximately 50 productive years, he had developed a simplified style in which each voice of a polyphonic composition exhibited free and smooth motion, and close attention was paid to clear setting of text as well as clear alignment of text with musical motifs. While other composers were influential on the development of Josquin's style, especially in the late 15th century, he himself became the most influential composer in Europe, especially after the development of music printing, which was concurrent with the years of his maturity and peak output. This event made his influence even more decisive than it might otherwise have been.

Many "modern" musical compositional practices were being born in the era around 1500. Josquin made extensive use of "motivic cells" in his compositions, short, easily-recognizable melodic fragments which passed from voice to voice in a contrapuntal texture, giving it an inner unity. This is a basic organizational principle in music which has been practiced continuously from approximately 1500 until the present day.

Josquin wrote in all of the important forms current at the time, including masses, motets, chansons, and frottole. He even contributed to the development of a new form, the motet-chanson, of which he left at least three examples. In addition, some of his pieces were probably intended for instrumental performance.

Each area of his output can be further subdivided by form or by hypothetical period of composition. Since dating Josquin's compositions is particularly problematic, with scholarly consensus only achieved on a minority of works, discussion here is by type.

 

 

Manuscript showing the opening Kyrie of the Missa de Beata Virgine, a late work. (Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Capp. Sist. 45, ff. 1v-2r)
 
 
Masses
Josquin wrote towards the end of the period in which the mass was the predominant form of sacred composition in Europe. The mass, as it had developed through the 15th century, was a long, multi-section form, with opportunities for large-scale structure and organization not possible in the other forms such as the motet. Josquin wrote some of the most famous examples of the genre, most using some kind of cyclic organization.

He wrote masses using the following general techniques, although there is considerable overlap between techniques in individual compositions:

cantus firmus mass, in which a pre-existing tune appeared, mostly unchanged, in one voice of the texture, with the other voices being more or less freely composed;

paraphrase mass, in which a pre-existing tune was used freely in all voices, and in many variations;

parody mass, in which a pre-existing multi-voice song appeared in whole or in part, with material from all voices in use, not just the tune;

soggetto cavato, or solmization mass, in which the tune is drawn from the syllables of a name or phrase (for example "la sol fa re mi" — A, G, F, D, E — based on the syllables of Lascia fare mi ("leave me alone", a phrase used by an unknown patron, in a context around which much legend has arisen).

canon, in which an entire mass is based on canonic techniques, and no pre-existing material has been identified.


Most of these techniques, particularly paraphrase and parody, become standardized during the first half of the 16th century; Josquin was very much a pioneer, and what was perceived as mixing of these techniques by later observers was actually the process by which they were created.

Josquin was fond of canonic techniques, as were many other composers of his generation, and canon appears in all of his masses, sometimes to the exclusion of other structural devices.

Cantus-firmus masses
Prior to Josquin's mature period, the most common technique for writing masses was the cantus firmus, a technique which had been in use already for most of the 15th century. It was the technique that Josquin used earliest in his career, with the Missa L'ami Baudichon, possibly his first mass. This mass is based on a secular – indeed ribald – tune similar to "Three Blind Mice". That basing a mass on such a source was an accepted procedure is evident from the existence of the mass in Sistine Chapel part-books copied during the papacy of Julius II (1503 to 1513).

Josquin's most famous cantus-firmus masses are the two based on the L'homme armé tune, which was the favorite tune for mass composition of the entire Renaissance. The earlier of the two, Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales, is a technical tour-de-force on the tune, containing numerous mensuration canons and contrapuntal display. It was by far the most famous of all his masses. The second, Missa L'homme armé sexti toni, is a "fantasia on the theme of the armed man." While based on a cantus firmus, it is also a paraphrase mass, for fragments of the tune appear in all voices. Technically it is almost restrained, compared to the other L'homme armé mass, until the closing Agnus Dei, which contains a complex canonic structure including a rare retrograde canon, around which other voices are woven.

Paraphrase masses
The paraphrase technique differs from the cantus-firmus technique in that the source material, though it still consists of a monophonic original, is embellished, often with ornaments. As in the cantus-firmus technique, the source tune may appear in many voices of the mass.

Several of Josquin's masses feature the paraphrase technique, and they include some of his most famous work. The relatively early Missa Ave maris stella, which probably dates from his years in the Sistine Chapel choir, paraphrases the Marian antiphon of the same name; it is also one of his shortest masses. The late Missa de Beata Virgine paraphrases plainchants in praise of the Virgin Mary; it is a Lady Mass, a votive mass for Saturday performance, and was his most popular mass in the 16th century.

By far the most famous of Josquin's masses using the technique, and one of the most famous mass settings of the entire era, was the Missa pange lingua, based on the hymn by Thomas Aquinas for the Vespers of Corpus Christi. It was probably the last mass that Josquin composed. This mass is an extended fantasia on the tune, using the melody in all voices and in all parts of the mass, in elaborate and ever-changing polyphony. One of the high points of the mass is the et incarnatus est section of the Credo, where the texture becomes homophonic, and the tune appears in the topmost voice; here the portion which would normally set "Sing, O my tongue, of the mystery of the divine body" is instead given the words "And he became incarnate by the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary, and was made man."

 
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin Desprez - "Ave Maria"
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin Desprez - Motets et Chansons
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin Desprez - O Domine Jesu Christe
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin Desprez - Miserere mei Deus secundum
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Josquin Desprez - Qui habitat
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
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