Obrecht also spelled Hobrecht (born Nov. 22, 1452,
Bergen-op-Zoom, Brabant [now in the Netherlands]—died 1505,
Ferrara [Italy]), composer who, with Jean d’Ockeghem and
Josquin des Prez, was one of the leading composers in the
preeminently vocal and contrapuntal Franco-Flemish, or
Franco-Netherlandish, style that dominated Renaissance
He was the son of Willem Obrecht, a trumpeter. His first
known appointment was in 1484 as instructor of choirboys at
Cambrai cathedral, where he was criticized for negligence in
caring for the boys. In 1485 he became assistant choirmaster
of the cathedral at Brugge. According to Henricus Glareanus,
Desiderius Erasmus was among the choirboys at one of
Obrecht’s positions. In 1487 Obrecht visited Italy, where he
met Ercole I, Duke of Ferrara, an admirer of his music. The
duke installed Obrecht in Ferrara and sought a papal
appointment for him there. The appointment was not
forthcoming, and Obrecht returned to Bergen-op-Zoom in 1488.
In 1504 he again traveled to Ferrara, where he died of
Obrecht’s compositional style is notable for its warm,
graceful melodies and its clear harmonies that approach a
modern feeling for tonality. His surviving works include 27
masses, 19 motets, and 31 secular pieces.
His masses are largely for four voices. Most employ a
cantus firmus taken from plainchant or from a secular song.
His use of the cantus firmus varies from the customary
statement of it in the tenor to fragments of it in each
movement and in voices other than the tenor. Some of his
late masses employ parody technique—using all voices of a
preexistent chanson or motet, rather than a single borrowed
melody, as a unifying device.
His motets are largely to texts in honour of the Virgin
Mary (e.g., Salve Regina; Alma Redemptoris Mater). They
characteristically have the cantus firmus melody placed in
the tenor in long notes. Some of the motets are polytextual,
a rather outdated practice. More progressive is his use of
melodic imitation and his frequent consecutive tenths.