In memoria mea / Josquin des Prez


"In memoriam - Josquin des Prez" 
Commemoration and homage in the work and memory of Josquin des Prez
A recording of the Missa Mater Patris et Filia and commemorative pieces by Josquin to his colleagues and masters. 


In 2021, members of Cantus Modalis and the ensemble Seconda Prat!ca will come together, under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Stewart, in a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin Desprez. In a celebration of the respected and daring composer, we are developing a project exploring the place of homage and remembrance in Josquin’s practice and the afterlife of his own work. Our “requiem” program will center on Josquin’s late (though heavily contested) 
Missa Mater Patris, the original motet of Brumel on which it was based and the commemorative pieces composed by Josquin for his colleagues and masters, as well as an anonymous Absolve composed for Josquin himself.

The project will include both a series of commemorative concerts as well as a recording of the program, in co-production with Cité de la Voix in Vezelay and the sound engineering work of Jonas Niederstadt, taking place in early January 2020. 

In order to finance the recording part of the project, we have created this crowdfunding campaign, to find friends and patrons willing to help us make this initiative a reality.

To sing and research the repertoire of our shared musical heritage is one of the most rewarding occupations, but one which is both arduous and costly. For us as artists it has been inspiring to see how the memory of past generations found musical expression in both Josquin’s compositions and our own performance. This is made all the more symbolic for the young performers of the Seconda Prat!ca ensemble, being able to work with one of the pioneers of source-based performance of the Franco-Flemish repertoire of the High Renaissance, Dr. Rebecca Stewart.

With the support of Cité de la Voix and personal funding we’ve managed to cover many of the costs related with recording and hosting the musicians, but there are still expenses to be covered especially those concerned with the training of the performers, the travels, the edition and reconstruction of the repertoire, the creation of the musical material as well as the edition and distribution of the recording.

We hope the project’s exciting proposal and this crowdfunding campaign will attract people willing to be a part of the network of support that makes artistic endeavors possible. We gratefully accept donations of any size and we have also different rewards for those of you that would be interested in keeping a souvenir. We will also be sure to keep you updated on the different steps of the project as well as keep you informed on the upcoming concerts we are currently organizing, so we may also meet you in person.

We would like to thank you all for your time, your attention and your support.

But before we close we would like to leave you with the message Dr. Rebecca Stewart on the project, its subject and importance.

Thank you
Seconda Prat!ca & Cantus Modalis 


Dear friends of Josquin Desprez,

It has been my honor and privilege to have lived and made music in The Netherlands since 1974. These many years have been primarily occupied in the pursuit of one passion, the modal music of our European forefathers beginning with their earliest remaining written evidence. This passion has always been combined with and influenced by my many years of study of the similar oral traditions in mostly South Asia and the Middle- and Near East. Within this vast ‘specialty’, two linguistically and stylistically closely related (but historically very distant) traditions have formed my primary focus: (Gallican) chant and Franco-Flemish polyphony. In the music of my favorite composer, Josquin Desprez, they are perfectly combined.

It is therefore with a feeling of coming home that I have begun to collaborate with the young and equally passionate members of Seconda Prat!ca on this “In memoriam – Josquin Desprez” project. It is my belief that their backgrounds and open mindedness have made it possible for them to explore ever more deeply into the modal principles and practices of this music, with results which have rarely – at least in my experience – been reached by most earlymusic ensembles.

This current project has the term ‘in memoriam’ as the core of its vision for a very clear reason. During the 15th century the unsurpassingly high standards of the composing techniques and singing practices of the Franco-Flemish composers was justly acclaimed and –with limited success –imitated throughout Europe. As a result of the intricate relationship between the justly famous Franco-Flemish choir schools, the intimacy of the relationship between these composers themselves was often both close and reciprocal – and the act of their mutual borrowing one of genuine homage, given both during their lives and after their deaths. Hence the element of ‘in memoriam’, the unending act of remembering – and passing on – of something of great value.

Josquin’s timeless fame and influence has ensured that the quincentenary of his death in 1521 will be commemorated by the innumerable festivals and concerts not only in Europe but in all Western-oriented cultures of the world devoted to singing his music – and his praises. Until recently, probably because of its idiosyncratic nature his Missa Mater Patris has been rarely sung or recorded. This mass was very likely composed as a memorium to Josquin’s recently deceased colleague Antoine Brumel, who had replaced the also deceased Jacob Obrecht (who had replaced the departed Josquin!) as court composer for the duke of Ferrara. Not only did Josquin digest and transform Brumel’s famous 3-voice lauda-motet of the same name, but in so doing he recognized the significance of the Italian oral tradition of the lauda to the rising Italian domination of compositional thinking in the 16th century.
Josquin’s Missa Mater Patris functions as the centerpiece of both the recording and the concerts.

However, that which binds all of the pieces together is the element of ‘memoriam’. In three of the four compositions, it is the Introitus chant Requiem eternam from the funeral mass for the dead which forms the red thread linking Josquin’s famous chanson-motet Nymphes des bois, in homage of his own revered mentor Johannes Ockeghem, Josquin’s motet Absolve quesumus domine, composed after the death of his close colleague Obrecht, and finally the motet of the same name, written as a tribute to the recently deceased Josquin by an as yet unknown composer of the next generation. This last homage now only exists in four of what must have been its original 7 voices. As our final act of memoriae – and with the indispensable help of a valued colleague – this motet is now complete!

For all of these reasons, dear friends of Josquin: your hoped for support of our memory project will be deeply appreciated.
Dr. Rebecca Stewart


[Josquin speaking] [The authors speaking]

”À la recherche du temps perdu”

I am old. An old musician with many memories. I was born in Frasne1, north of Condé, in the County of Hainaut, which is a part of the Duchy of Burgundy. And to Condé I have finally returned to stay – and to die. This is where my story began – and will reach its end. My path may appear to have been circuitous. It was not. Although it also lead me to Rome, that was purely circumstantial. The ties which bound me to Condé – and to Cambrai – are those of undying kinship to my family, my teachers, my fellow choristers and my closest colleagues. God has indeed bestowed a surfeit of gifts upon me. How much the greater is my debt to those who showed me the way. 

1. In 1482 taxes were levied on a former property of Josquin’s presumed father Gossard Desprez in Frasnes-Les-Buissonal, 28 km north of Condé-sur-l’Escaut. Since the majority of the attested whereabouts of Gossard (who, like his own father Gossard, worked as a sergeant for the bailiff of Aht) concern Frasnes, it is likely that he lived there. The property mentioned in 1482 may well have been the house were Josquin was born. (Merkley 2017, pp. 286-287, 293) 

My family and my place

I have had the great fortune to be born into the – at least in my part of the world – commercially and politically influential family of Lebloitte/Desprez2, the well-known names of which are synonymous with genteel respectability. The city of Condé, through which the river Escault flows, forms a part of the ever insecure border between Burgundy and France. As such one might call me in Flemish ‘een grensgeval’, in French ‘un cas discutable’ and in English ‘a borderline case’. Taken both literally and figuratively, this could not be more accurate. I was born on a border. I have been variously known as Josse, Gosse, Jossequin, Gossequin, and even – among my Flemish-speaking colleagues – as Joskin, meaning “Little Jos”. Coincidentally, the ‘o’ and ‘i’ are imbedded in ‘sol-mi’, my favorite interval, which I have used very often, especially in my songs depicting loss.3 But of equal relevance, my music has the reputation for having often exceeded the stylistically acceptable ‘borders’ of my time.4 In all humility that fact even pleases me more because, without the examples of my many mentors, my ‘excesses’ would never have been possible, however ‘discutable’ they may remain. 

2. Josquin’s original family name, Lebloitte, was common in Frasnes-les-Buissonal. Several of the name-bearers owned farms or breweries. Josquin’s uncle Gilles Lebloitte dit Desprez – a name which was also used by both Josquin’s father and grandfather – was a man of considerable power and esteem in Condé. He was one of the city’s aldermen, even mayor for some time, and he owned a large amount of property in the city, including an inn called ‘Le Mouton’. The wealth of the city was due to the fact that Condé was on the border area between France and Burgundy. Le Mouton was situated close to the customs office, and the inn was used by travelers waiting for their goods to be checked, providing a prosperous business for the Lebloittes. (Merkley 2017, pp. 288-289, 293)

3. See the final bar of example 3a (note 32)

4. The Swiss music theorist Heinrich Glarenanus wrote in his Dodecachordon of 1547 that: his talent was so versatile in every way, so equipped by a natural acumen and vigor, that there was nothing in this field which he could not do. But in many instances he lacked a proper measure and a judgment based on knowledge and thus in some places in his songs he did not fully restrain as he ought to have, the impetuosity of a lively talent, although this ordinary fault may be condoned because of the otherwise incomparable gifts of the man. (Glareanus, p. 264)

Those blessed Condé and Cambrai years of my youth

From my earliest years it was evident that I was exceptionally musical. Therefore, as was expected of the more cerebrally and musically endowed boys of our large extended family, between the age of six and seven I became a pupil of the richly endowed and widely respected Maison de Macourt5, a religious establishment in Condé, which also maintained an elite school in which six carefully selected young boys were educated to become high musical functionaries of the church.6 We were very aware of our privileged position, having heard that choirboys were no longer allowed to sing in the papal chapel.7 The standards were exacting and the teaching methods rigorously hierarchical.8 In addition to being plunged into all aspects of the Latin liturgy, practically this meant the memorization of all our music – beginning with the 150 psalms with their intonations, the antiphons and the hymns, which we sang daily. In addition we were exposed to the finest examples of polyphonic mass movements and motets. In our little remaining spare time we even learned chansons – which was great fun. I think it was here – via my own French language!– that I first began to experiment with my own musical ideas. Although I only became conscious of it later – when confronted with other, less nuanced, ways of singing –, it was as a pupil of the Maison de Macourt that I truly learned how to sing chant and therefore polyphony. Although one can only ‘explain’ how to sing convincingly in any language or style by doing it, I will attempt a short summary of how we were trained by our teachers and the more advanced pupils amongst us. The overriding principle which dictated everything else was that of harmony and proportion. The music had to be a reflection of the balanced order of God’s universe as felt through the medium of vibration and therefore sound. Only through our superbly ‘intuned’ voices, trained to sing brightly to illicit the higher overtones present in the acoustic – and therefore to more easily hear and react to every nuance of the chant and polyphony – could the music truly interact with the acoustical surroundings.This explanation may sound a bit abstract. In fact the methods were very straightforward. We began by learning to sing psalm tones with a bourdon or drone as the primary generating element. Although not used in the actual mass or office, this could be produced by an instrument such as a psaltery, or by a voice or voices. With the one exception of the 6th tone on f fa-ut – in which the psalm was chanted on the perfect third – all the psalms were chanted around the interval of the fourth or fifth of the mode. Through listening to the at first conscious – and later completely internalized – measuring staff of the bourdon we began to hear and therefore recognize that every interval – be it melodic, harmonic or rhythmic – was determined by its relationship to the unbreakable acoustical principles of the universe. And that it was our function as well-trained singers to reflect this principle in our interaction with it. We learned that the unique character of every piece of music in whichever mode – from the simplest to the most complex – was dependent upon the degree to which its movements deviated from or were in accordance with these universal harmonic principles. And that every sound we made – every vowel or consonant, whether high or low, loud or soft – was both the result and the creator of every other sound around it. And therefore that no sound which we made could ever stand still or be separated from its function as an inseparable part of the whole. The only word I know for this is what we call in French enchainement. 

5. The Maison de Macourt was of great renown, already generously endowed by pope Leo IX, mid 11th century. (Merkley 2017, p 288.) From at least 1200 it fell under the auspices of the chapter of Notre Dame de Condé. (Saint-Genois, pp. 325, 495) (The Carthusian monastery in Marly-lez-Valenciennes – mentioned in de CD booklet - was founded in 1288, and it is not clear if it has any relationship with the Maison de Macourt in Condé-sur-l’Escaut, other than its name).

6. Every major cathedral had its maîtrise, in which the choirboys, supervised by the magister puerorum, were lodged and educated. (Steib. p. 25)Very likely the Maison de Macourt functioned as the maîtrise of Condé cathedral.

7. The music-making at Notre Dame in Condé in the second half of the 15th and the early 16th century was renowned for its high quality, in its own area only surpassed by Saint-Vincent in Soignies and Notre Dame in Cambrai. (GMO Josquin) During Josquin’s provostship (1504-1521) he presided over a large musical establishment, including 18 chaplains, 16 petits vicaires and 6 choirboys. The services were mostly sung by the latter two groups. (GMO Josquin) Both chant and polyphony were written down in large choirbooks on high music stands, in front of which normally no more than a maximum of 12 – including the choirboys – could stand.In choirbooks with polyphony the parts were notated separately. Due to the proximity of the singers, those singing any one part could hear (and instantly react to) all the other parts being sung around them. (Even the chansonniers of the time, although much smaller in size, were arranged in choirbook format.) The choirboys usually sang from their own chant books, only joining the petits vicaires for the singing of polyphony. (Wright 1978, p. 306)

8. The boys were probably seven or eight years old when they entered the maîtrise. (Dumont, p. 151) In addition to their education in the theoretical subjects of the quadrivium and the trivium, practically they learned to sing plainchant, improvise counterpoint (both freely and upon a pre-existing melody, the latter being called super librum) and to sing from mensural notation with all its proportional intricacies. Most of the learning happened orally by imitating not only the teacher (‘master’), but – like the pupils in the guild system – also their more advanced peers ('journeymen’). (Wright 1978, pp. 25-26) Two well-known pedagogic aids were the Guidonian solmization syllables and the use of cheironomy (hand gestures which depicted the chant neumes or melodic nuclei). Another major subject was liturgy, at the Maison de Macourt taught by a cleric called Baudechon. (Merkley 2017, pp. 291-292) Almost immediately after entering the school, the boys were given some type of singing role in the services. (Dumont, p. 151) 

Under this exacting tutelage we eventually became not only skilled, but uniquely knowledgeable singers, and were therefore highly sought after as choirboys in the elite choral establishments of Condé and the nearby cathedrals and churches in Cambrai, Valenciennes and S. Quentin.In my case, like other boys in the Lebloitte/Desprez family who had preceded me as pupils at the Maison de Macourt, from around the age of 12 I became a highly skilled choir- and altar boy in the prestigious collegiate church of St. Géry10, immediately outside the walls of the city of Cambrai.11 Although completely unaware of it then, from this point onward it was merely a matter of time, unswerving industry and loyalty to my fellow craftsmen and benefactors, before I – like a remarkably high number of other choirboys from the same part of France and Burgundy – would become a singer in one or more of the most illustrious chapels of Western Europe. At this juncture it is important to stress what to all of us singers was a matter of fact. My primary duties would always be those of a singer, not a so-called composer, an ancillary function which we all shared to a greater or lesser degree, but for which we were never regularly recompensed. The fact that my colleague, Henricus Isaac, who was a singer at the Medici court in Florence, was then hired by the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I as a composer, was – until that time – unheard of. 

9. If a petit vicaire (hence an adult singer) lacked certain necessary musical skills – especially that of improvising counterpoint – he could be sent to the maîtrise for some ‘remedial teaching’ by the master of the boys. A source from Cambrai cathedral tells us that on 25 June 1485: someone from Berg[en op Zoom] is admitted as a lesser vicar with the promise of the master of singing that he [the vicar] will make some progress in learning more how to sing on the book and that he [the master] will gladly teach him. This master was none other than Jacob Obrecht, master of the choirboys at Cambrai from June 1484 until October 1485, himself a very skilled improviser in the art of singing ‘on the book’. (Wright 1978, pp. 313-314) 

10. The church of Saint-Géry (named after the local saint and founder of the city) was located on the ‘Mont des boeufs’, the highest point of Cambrai, just outside the eastern wall. After having conquered the city in 1543, Charles V built a citadel on this location in 1545, at the cost of 800(!) houses, as well as the church of Saint-Géry and its associated buildings. (Trenard, p. 106)Ties between Condé cathedral and Saint-Géry were close: the above mentioned teacher of liturgy, whose nickname, ‘Baudechon’, was very likely based on the popular folksong L’ami Baudichon – andwho may have been the inspiration for one of Josquin’s earliest masses, the Missa L’ami Baudichon – was a member of the chapter of Saint-Géry. (Merkley 2017, pp. 291-292)We know that in 1462-1463 the choirmaster of the church of Saint-Géry recruited choirboys in Condé and Saint-Quentin for his own church. (Merkley 2017, p. 283, n. 11) From 25 May to 22 June 1466 payments were made to the altar boy Gossequin de Condé on the occasion of his withdrawal from Saint-Géry. (Merkley 2017, p. 283) 

11. Cambrai was an important city, rich, and strategically located. Yet, in spite of the many threats from its neighbors – the kingdom of France, the duchy of Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire – Cambrai essentially remained an independent and neutral bishopric until 1543, when Charles V took possession of the city.As opposed to many other major churches in the North, the tradition of performing music in the liturgy in Cambrai was purely vocal, with an abnormally large emphasis on polyphony. (Wright 1978, pp. 322-325) An explanation may be found in the close ties between Cambrai and the Vatican (itself an independent bishopric). This ‘Rome of the North’ mirrored many of the musical practices at the papal chapel, where musical instruments were also prohibited. (Wright 1978, p. 324, 325-326) There was however one major difference: whereas the practice of allowing choir boys to sing in the papal chapel was abandoned in 1441 (Wright 1978, pp. 311, 326) – only to be re-established by conductor Lorenzo Perosi and Pope Pius X in the early 20th century – in Cambrai the tradition of using choirboys continued, even though the practice of employing male sopranos became more prevalent in the 16th century. (Wright 1978, p. 310) 

Notwithstanding, I can never adequately express the degree to which my Cambrai years formed my thinking as a composer. Although I would continue to hone my skills and stretch my stylistic boundaries until the present day, it is to my education at St. Géry and the renowned Cathedral of Cambrai – and most specifically through singing the music of ‘composers’ such as Dufay, Ockeghem and Busnoys, and becoming familiar with the thinking of the practical theorist Tinctoris – that I am forever in debt.12 My earliest mentor was Guillaume Dufay, who had once been a petit vicaire at St. Géry. Upon his final return to Cambrai, Dr. Dufay became a canon-in-residence of the Cathedral of Cambrai, which, because of its outstanding ecclesiastical and musical reputation, and its unique relationship to The Vatican, we called ‘The St. Peter of the North’.  12. Guillaume Dufay (ca.1397-1474), himself a choirboy at Cambrai cathedral from 1409-1412, was a canon in residence at the church from 1458 until his death. (GMO Dufay)From that same year until his own death, Johannes Ockeghem (ca.1410/20-1497) resided in Tours as both the treasurer of the royal abbey of Saint-Martin, and as master of the royal chapel. He was in Cambrai on 2 June 1462, and again in 1464, when from 20 February until 5 March he stayed at Dufay’s house. (GMO Ockeghem)In 1460 Johannes Tinctoris (ca.1435-1511) was paid for four months of service by the office of the petit vicaires at Cambrai cathedral. In the early 1470’s he moved to Naples, where, between 1478 and 1480, he often philosophized with Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522) on, among other things, the theoretical elements of mensural notation (GMO Tinctoris). Gaffurius would soon become the maestro di cappella at Milan Cathedral, a position which he held from 1484 until his death. During the periods of Josquin’s residence in Milan, Gaffurius became one of his closest colleagues. (GMO Gaffurius) 
Although Ockeghem was le grand père to our entire generation of Franco-Flemish composers, it is to Dufay – who was in residence! at the cathedral of Cambrai during all my years at St. Géry –, that I personally am equally in debt. His home was well-nigh a place of pilgrimage for many of his younger colleagues such as Ockeghem, Busnoys and Compère, who always brought fascicles of their own music to sing with us – and to profit from the observations of the master himself. When not occupied by my singing or altar duties, I spent much of my time also learning the principles of rhétorique. To this day I am indebted to Dufay – and Ockeghem and Busnoys – for their mastery of the subtleties of our French courtly poetic language and of their ability to always allow the meaning and ‘cadence’ of the words to guide their musical inspiration, and never the other way around.13 It may be that I have become partially identified with my compositional eccentricities. However, if I am also recognized for my ability to mold my melodic invention around the unique ‘shape’ and taste of the words, I am content. It will have been because these teachers taught me that nothing is more important in music. My Nymphes des Bois – which was inspired by the poem of my longtime colleague, the grand rhétoriquer Molinet –, was written in memory of Ockeghem after his death in Tours in 1497. In a most inadequate way – and with a lapse of many years – this chanson was my small attempt to repay an incalculable debt to at least one of those three teachers from my years in Cambrai.  13. At least six books of chansons (chansonniers) compiled during this period confirm the fame of Dufay, Ockeghem and Busnoys, both as poets and composers. 

Example 1 

Before turning to the next phase, there is one more indelible Cambrian debt I wish to repay. It was the very same Dufay – with his indomitable curiosity about all things foreign – who introduced me to an utterly strange practice, that to which he gave the name of faulx bourdon in the Communio which concluded his early Missa Plena Sancti Jacobi.14 He finished this mass while in Bologna in the 30s, years before my birth. The use of this foreign intrusion slowly came to be associated with moments of great solemnity or sanctity. Once again, it took the death of another dear colleague of many years, Antoine Brumel, to prompt me to write one of my most abnormal – and therefore controversial – masses. For those of you who might have forgotten, after the sudden death of my good Flemish colleague Jacob Obrecht, who replaced me at the court of Ferrara upon my final return to Condé not so many years ago, it was Brumel who, in turn, replaced him. My Missa Mater patris is permeated with Brumel’s 3-voice lauda motet Mater patris et filia. But at only one crucial point – to express the brightness of the word “eximia” – did Brumel chose to allude to Dufay’s faulx bourdon technique.15 This one device became the main inspiration for most of my own ‘requiem’ mass in honor of this much respected colleague. Condé and Cambrai were my world! With an unquenchable thirst to increase my skills, a head full of ideas and the best musicians through which to test them, I had no reason to leave that world. But – as always in the lives of those who serve – non-musical events intervened.  14. Example 1. The first notated example of faux bourdon: bar 1-13 from the Communio of the Missa Sancti Iacobi, by Guillaume Dufay. In faux bourdon a usually pre-existing, sometimes embellished, melody in the top voice is accompanied by a lower voice in parallel sixths, with a third voice shadowing the top voice in perfect fourths below. 15. See Example 7 below (note 49) 

A life punctuated with – mostly very long – trips in coaches and carriages

I have returned to my home Condé four times in my fairly long life. Thanks be to God, the fourth time has been my last. The other three? In 1466, while still at St Géry, I was called home because I was named sole heir in the will of my still living Uncle Gilles Lebloitte and Aunt Jacque Banestone.16 Then, in 1483, after their death, I came back to officially accept my inheritance – and to be fêted by my old Maison de Macourt! In 1478 that hook-nosed and distinctly unsympathetic king, His Royal Highness Louis XI of France had laid siege to Condé, and – in a spiteful act of revenge after the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I had liberated it – had torched everything but 14 houses and the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Condé.17 A third time was in 1494 when – now as a servant of their no more likable Excellencies Pope Alexander VI and Cardinal Ascanio Sforza – I returned to claim a canonry in St. Géry.18 I distinctly remember that the wine with which I was presented was superb. Almost good enough to have come from one of our own vineyards. During this stay I firmly resolved – if God were to favor my request – to return one last time, with only one purpose: to secure the quality of music-making at the cathedral at a level equal with that of St. Quentin and Cambrai.19 In this, with all humility, I think I have succeeded. The life of this highly sought after – but ever aging – singer/music maker was unbelievably peripatetic! The following list of my short- to longtime residences, while in or between my service with one or more of my – sometimes sympathetic – benefactors, horrifies even me. And I’m sure I have forgotten quite a few. Because my memory of the exact month – let alone year – of each stage of my irregular but close relationship with vehicles on four wheels escapes me, I will here enumerate only the most interesting of my journeys. They be, so I believe, as follows: Condé, Cambrai, Condé, Tours, Aix-en Province, Angers, Condé, Plessis-les-Tours, Milan, Rome – the voyage between Milan and Rome was repeated virtually ad nauseam –, Paris, Cambrai, Lyon, Blois, Paris, Ferrara and, for the final time, back home to Condé. 

16. In December 1466 Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez, son of Gossard, was named heir in the will of his uncle Gilles Lebloitte and aunt Jacque Banestone. The will implied that they held Gossard’s estate in trust, and therefore that Gossard (and his wife) were already deceased, suggesting they may have been older than Gilles and Jacque. (Merkley 2017, pp. 285-286) 

17. After a failed attempt in 1477, Louis XI successfully laid siege on Condé-sur-l’Escaut on 27 April 1478. Josquin’s aunt and uncle may have died during this siege. (Condé) Finally on 26 February 1483 (‘for the first time after the French wars’) Josquin was in Condé to claim his heritage. Sometime during this visit he is welcomed to the Maison de Macourt with a dinner. (Merkley 1999, pp. 456-460; Merkley 2017, pp. 287-290) 

18. In August or September 1494 Josquin was a guest of the St. Géry chapter (perhaps claiming the benefice) where he received wine. (Merkley 2017, p. 285; GMO Josquin) 

19. On 3 May 1504 Josquin was admitted as a the new provost at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Condé. (GMO Josquin) 

Lest you might think that I slept the entire way or avidly admired the often very well known scenery, this is the moment to enlighten you. As a special musician – and hence what is called a ‘familial’ –, whose courtly duties could include anything my duke, prince, king, cardinal or pope desired – which varied from singing anywhere, anytime and for any occasion, to spying on various members of whichever royal household was at that moment most under suspicion, to even less savory requests –, I almost always stepped into my coach with the same feeling a lady might have when entering her boudoir: I was stepping into my domain, a well nigh holy place of refuge.20 Even while in the presence of my own servant or being blessed with that of a fellow musician or two, the chances that I would be left to my own devices – that of making music – were infinitely greater than while remaining confined to any one place, at the beck and call of whichever lackey or lord it behoved to interfere with my inspiration. Accompanied by my music slates, costly pieces of paper and valuable fascicles filled with music, I would proceed to compose some of my finest music – for me! And of course for my Lord and Savior.  20. As an acclaimed composer and a servant of the ‘rich and famous’, Josquin would most likely not have had to travel by ordinary coach. Instead, as the Ferrarese ambassador Bartolemo de’ Cavalieri’ wrote to his ducal court, Josquin – while on his way from Paris to Ferrara in the spring of 1503, accompanied by his colleague Johannes Ghiselin (alias ‘Verbonnet’) – arrived on 12 April in Lyon in a ‘splendid carriage’. According to De’ Cavalieri, he received and lodged them for one night in his own house. (GMO Josquin, GMO Ghiselin) 
It has been my experience that the rhythmic themes and variations of the horses’ hooves would often lure me into an alternative reality in which were conceived some of my most compelling mensural relationships, a large proportion of which composed themselves into some form of a short-long ternary pattern, even when in a supposed binary meter. Of course I would of necessity have to wait until I reached my next chapel and was surrounded by my ever curious colleagues, where together we would put whatever I had finally confined to paper to the indispensable test of a first reading in the acoustical surroundings for which it was intended.21 And after which I would make any necessary improvements. Apropos: yes, I am a perfectionist and won’t let any music out of my hands until it is truly finished.22 

21. By the middle of the 16th century, Josquin’s music and reputation (even when not his), were known throughout Europe. As attested by the following quote of the printer Joannes Manlius, probably of Slovenian origin, in his Locorum communium collectanea of 1562: Whenever [Josquin] had composed a new song, he gave it to the singers to be sung, and meanwhile he walked around, listening attentively whether the concordant sound came together well. If he was dissatisfied, he stepped in: "Be silent," he said, "I will change it!" (Manlius, p. 542; translation taken from Wegman, p. 330) 

22. According to Glareanus in his Dodecachordonthose who knew [Josquin] say that he published his works after much deliberation and with manifold corrections; neither did he release a song to the public unless he had kept it to himself for some years, the opposite of what Obrecht appears to have done. (Glareanus, p. 265) 

A moment of melancholy

These remembrances of all those journeys and of making music [as composing was then called] and trying it out with my companions, induce in me a feeling of melancholy as I recall our oftentimes parallel journeys from youth to old age. Although it is not seemly to enumerate their names individually, it is a fact that without their friendship and loyalty I would not now be telling this tale. You see, my lifelong friendships were bound by much more than the mere fact that we were sometimes family, often born in the same Franco-Flemish border area and around the same time. Most pertinently we had been trained at an early age to think, speak and sing in the same musical language, one which was difficult to explain to those from outside. Because we were good at what we did we continually crossed paths in one court or another. Just as importantly, our ‘family’ bonds meant that we supported one another whenever and wherever we could.23 

23. During his long life Josquin collected an impressive number of loyal friends-cum-colleagues (some of them relatives), the list of which is too long to be detailed here. Therefore we only give the names – as much as possible in chronological order.Guillaume Dufay (ca.1397-1474) (GMO Dufay)Johannes Ockeghem (ca.1410/20-1497) (GMO Ockeghem)Antoine Busnoys (ca.1430-1492) (GMO Busnoys)Jean Molinet (1435-1507) (GMO Molinet)Loyset Compère (ca.1445-1518) (GMO Compère)Gaspar van Weerbeke ca.1445-after 1516) (GMO Weerbeke)Egidius Deprez (‘De la Pre, De la Prede’) (?-?) (Merkley 2017, pp. 82-86, 315)Jean LGMOnt (‘Ottinet’) (?-1493/5) (Merkley 1999, pp. 428, 430, 433)Antoine Baneston (Antonius de Cambrai) (?-?) (Merkley 1999, pp. 432, 438, 451, 460)Egidius (‘Ginet’) Cosse (?-?) (Merkley 1999, pp. 430, 433, 438-439, 444, 451, 463)Innocent Cosse (?-?) (Merkley 1999, pp. 438, 451)Franchinus Gaffurius (1451-1522) (GMO Gaffurius)Guillaume Crétin (1450/60-1525) (GMO Crétin)Jacob Obrecht (1457/8-1505) (GMO Obrecht)Johannes Ghiselin alias Verbonnet (fl.1491-1507) (GMO Ghiselin)Jean Mouton (ca.1459-1522) (GMO Mouton)Antoine Brumel (ca.1460-ca.1512/3) (GMO Brumel)*Marbrianus de Orto (ca.1460-1529) (Merkley, 1999, pp. 438, 444, 450-451, 463) 
Because the security of a singer was dependent upon the whims of his masters – and mistresses – and the strength, musicality and flexibility of his voice, his vocation was anything but secure. As a necessary consequence there then developed a system of benefices, the often farcical practice of receiving and then trading clerical positions in far flung places for the one purpose of guaranteeing a source of income in old age, even if sometimes far from home.24 However, miraculously, it sometimes worked. Look at Dufay and me! Naturally these positions were dependent upon the recipient having been ordained a priest. I suppose because I was highly favored I managed to avoid this entanglement until my fifties. But back to my musical mentors themselves.  24. Josquin’s documented benefices are:Saint-Marie Magdalene in ‘Masséna’ (Marseille?) around 1473Puy-Saint-Réparade (Provence), 1474/5Lamotte (diocese of Toul, near Nancy) 1476An unknown place in the diocese of Angers 1477Saumur (near Tours, perhaps the ‘diocese of Angers’ benefice of 1477?), before 1478Saint-Saveur in Aix-en-Provence 1478(Merkley 2017, pp. 295-331)Saint-Aubin (near Bourges), 1484(Merkley 1999, pp. 430-449; Merkley 2017, pp. 336-340)Saint-Quentin in Saint-Quentin, before 1503/4(Merkley 2001, pp. 557-559, 562-567)Notre Dame in Condé-sur-l’Escaut 1504Arras, around 1509Tournai, around 1513(GMO Josquin) 

Mon grand père Ockeghem

In the case of this greatest of teachers, my memories are simply too many. Here the most superficial of accounts. After Ockeghem’s last visit to Dufay, in 1464, – and my trip to see my aunt, uncle, and Condé in 1466 – I then followed Ockeghem to Tours and the Royal Chapel of King Louis XI.25 Although I was not an official member of the chapel, I was welcome to ‘absorb’ all I could from le maistre. Under his guidance I learned what it meant to compose polyphony in contradistinction to being a skilled improviser of counterpoint. In Cambrai I had been most impressed by Ockeghem’s rhetorical skills in his chansons, such as the 3-voice ‘hits’ D’Ung aultre amer, Ma bouche rit and Fors seulement l’attente. And his ability to touch my very young heartstrings with the slight alteration of a melodic or rhythmic gesture to reflect another textual nuance. In Tours I came to know Ockeghem as a brilliant structuralist and the very best adapter of the irregular melodic gestures of chant to the mensural strictures of polyphony, especially those of the grand-scale motets and mass movements. How did I all this? By listening, by making the gestures my own vocally, and by adapting my models to new situations. An especially favorite guinea pig for a few of my experiments was Ockeghem’s D’Ung aultre amer, parts of which I transformed into several mass sections and motets. 

25. There is no written proof concerning Josquin’s whereabouts between 1466 and 1477, the year in which he was first mentioned as a singer at the court of René d’Anjou in Aix-en-Provence. Circumstantial evidence however seems to suggest that he may have gone to Tours, to meet and study with Ockeghem – and perhaps to try to join the French royal chapel, led by the same Ockeghem. A second option was to join the choir of Saint-Laud in Angers, the quality of whose music-making was almost equal to that of Tours. This made Angers an attractive place to be as well, especially since Tours was close by. Whatever may have been the case, at some point Josquin must have either met with – or drawn the attention of – René d’Anjou, his first real employer. (Merkley 2017, p. 293-294) 

And then, and then, and then

As I said when I began, this tale is not autobiographical. And some of the details may be colored because of who I am. It is simply an attempt to recall – especially as I myself am nearing my end – why I have felt compelled to pay homage to those from whom I have first learned and then ‘stolen’ so much. Most often I have been able to do this while my colleagues were still alive, ideally by incorporating some of their ideas into my own compositions. However, in at least three instances I have also tried to pay my debt after their decease.26 Therefore the next portion of my story will concentrate only on those aspects which I believe to have been most influential in shaping the inspiration which guided my own acts of posthumous homage. 

26. These three pieces are: the already mentioned Nymphes des bois/Requiem, upon the death of Johannes Ockeghem in 1497, Absolve quaesumus Domine/Requiem, upon the death of Jacob Obrecht in 1505 (Elders) and Missa Mater patris et filia, upon the death of Antoine Brumel, around 1512/3. 
My first real ‘job’! Becoming a member of the court chapels of ‘le bon roy’ René d’Anjou and his wife Jeanne de Laval, first in Anjou and then in Provence.27 Both monarchs were fervently devout. Their court was a hub of creativity, like one grand theatre, both sacred and secular. My own development gained enormously from the quality of the poetry, its details of form, meaning and expression. Here I drank in subtleties of rhyme and internal assonance which I could even apply to my Latin motets, whether single- or polytextual. It was a court full of song, drama and art – and devotion to the Virgin Mary. My chanson activity simply exploded because of the practical involvement of the entire court. We borrowed, We shared, We refined – and my musical invention blossomed! In length, in numbers of voices and in quality! My earliest motets and masses were inspired by the number of special masses –such as those for René’s L’Ordre du Croissant – and the occasions in which they would be sung by my colleagues, good and enthusiastic singers.28 This happy period came to its inevitable end with the death of the good King. With that I returned to Anjou. Luckily Ockeghem was still chapel master of Louis XI’s royal chapel at St. Martens in Tour. However, after Louis Le Rusé besieged my Burgundian city of Condé, I preferred to remain at the court of Jeanne de Laval in Angers – a day and a half’s journey from Tours – until I was called home in 1483 to officially claim my inheritance.29 

27. We know of Josquin’s service with René d’Anjou mostly through notarial acts considering benefices and the testament of a fellow singer. (Merkley 2017, pp. 294-331) Combined with the fact that René died in 1480, we may speculate that Josquin was with him from at least some years before 1477 (perhaps as early as the court’s move to Aix-en-Provence in 1472 – or even before that) until 1480. (Or at least Josquin’ seems to say he was. And until we have proof, we just have to take his word for it…) 

28. René d’Anjou (who had his own knighthood order, L’ordre du Croissant) was also a skilled poet. As a friend of the famous poet and Duke Charles d’Orléans (the father of King Louis XII), he spent much of his time in Aix-en-Provence organizing festivals in which poets and musicians competed in showing their skills in writing, performing in spectacles and setting poems to music. (Merkley 2017, especially chapters II and VI-VIII) French poetry at that time was dominated by the so-called ‘grand rhéthorique, most famously exemplified by the (respectively Burgundian- and French Royal-) court poets Molinet and Crétin. (Jones, summarized on p. 2) 

29. Apart from the fact that Josquin stayed in Condé for some time in 1483, confirmed by notarial acts of that year, nothing is securely known of his whereabouts between 1480 and 1484, when he entered the service of Cardinal Ascanio Maria Sforza. (Merkley 2017, pp. 331-335) 

The next 25 years I spent as the ‘familial’ of the ducal Sforza/Visconti family of Milan. Cardinal Ascanio Maria’s father Francesco Sforza had married into the Visconti family and Ascanio’s brother Ludovico was the reigning duke. Most of that time I trundled back and forth between Milan and Rome in the retinue of the cardinal, while – from 1489 – being a member of the pope’s personal chapel, during the pontificates of Innocent VIII and Alexander VI (the latter of the house of Borgia).30   30. Although Ascanio Maria Sforza’s hometown was Milan, as cardinal (since 17 March 1484) he also had a residence in Rome. On his frequent journeys between Rome and Milan he was accompanied by his ‘familia’, which included Josquin, who had joined shortly before 20 June 1484. (Merkley 1999, pp. 444 and further)From 10 November 1487 until at least 8 October 1488 – when Ascanio temporarily took over the reins from his brother Ludovico Sforza, who had fallen ill – Josquin was a permanent singer in the ducal chapel in Milan. (Merkley 1999, p. 449) Josquin’s frequent presence in Rome, in the entourage of this very powerful cardinal, resulted in his automatic intermingling with the singers of the papal chapel. Conversely, upon entering the papal chapel in the spring of 1489, Josquin may well have remained a familial of Ascanio, staying in the latter’s Roman ‘pied à terre’. (Merkley p. 451)During his residences in Milan, Josquin must have met regularly with Franchinus Gaffurius.In his Angelicum ac divinum opus musice from 1508, Gaffurius mentions that many years earlier he had had discussions with Josquin and Weerbeke. (GMO Gaffurius) These may well have taken place in late April or early May 1489, when Weerbeke had just come back from the papal chapel in Rome to the ducal chapel in Milan (GMO Weerbeke), and Josquin was about to leave in the opposite direction (Merkley 2017, p. 341) 
25 years is a long time to live in a foreign country, unless one is planning to be buried there. Although the courts of Milan, the Vatican and, later, Ferrara were blatantly Francophile – shown by their close political ties to the French monarchy, and, most pertinently for me, the fact that most of my singer colleagues were from Burgundy or Northern France –, never once could I forget that I was in a foreign country with a foreign language and foreign ways of making music. The French bonhomie of Le bon roy René were a thing of the past. I now lived in a world of enmity and deceit. Naturally I continued to compose. In fact most of my masses and motets from this period have provoked much curiosity and are therefore widely disseminated. But, as my compositional standards have always been extremely exacting – and I certainly do not always compose to order – I gained a reputation for being uncompromising and arrogant.31 So be it. Perhaps to confirm this reputation, at one moment I decided to add my Josquin graffito to the wall of the cantoria of the Cappella Sistina.32 

31. In a letter to Ercole I d’Este dated 2 September 1502, Gian de Artiganova, another one of Ercole’s recruiters, stated that: It is true that Josquin composes better [than Heinrich Isaac], but he composes when he wants to and not when one wants him to, and he is asking 200 ducats in salary while Isaac will come for 120. (Merkley 2001, p. 547) 

32. During the restauration of the walls of the Cappella Sistina‘s cantoria, which started in 1997, the original frescos were revealed from behind a later layer, applied in the late 18th century. The original layer turned out to have been completely covered in initials and names of singers – often dated –, latin proverbs, drawings and bits of musical notation. The photo on the front of our CD Josquin Desprez: In memoria mea, which is a graffito of Josquin, is taken from one of the side walls of the cantoria. As he was a member of the papal chapel between1489 and (at least) 1494, this ‘writing on the wall’ must have come into practice soon after the opening of the Chapel in 1483. (NB The year 1584, just above Josquin‘s name, belongs to a drawing higher up on the wall.) (Pietschmann) 

Example 2


Nevertheless, it was in Italy that I was introduced to a vibrant oral musical culture which could not have differed more from the cultivated and even ascetic French one in which I had been brought up and had once considered to be ‘normal’. It was in Italy that I learned to respect the seemingly endless rows of parallel thirds, with the lower of the two usually being the dominant voice. Strings of them! Always in the upper voices. And when in a 3- or 4-voice improvisation practically always in the upper two voices of a ‘6/4 chord’. I believe it later came to be called falsobordone33, to distinguish it from the faulx bourdon importation introduced by Dufay – supposedly from England. In complete contradistinction to the Italian usage, our ‘Burgundian’ tradition began with the sixth, which was then ‘filled in’ with a third from the bottom and always resolved to the octave and the fifth. In addition it was in Italy that I really learned the magic of listening to seemingly endless 2-voice improvised canonic elaborations preferably on the unison. And lastly the affective impact of the prolonged and even sometimes isolated 4- or more-voice ‘chord’ sung to one singularly evocative word of text. Little did I know how soon I was to use this technique – now in its most elevated guise – for my own bon père.34 

33. Example 2. A theoretical falsobordone, based on the original oral tradition. The melody is in the second voice in black notes. 

34. Example 3a. The cleverly concealed – but still recognizable – falsobordone section in Josquin’s Nymphes des bois, bar 41-45. Example 3b. Josquin’s model for this section, with the bassus now an octave higher, resulting in the characteristic 6/4 harmonies. 

Example 3a

Example 3b


My unforeseen admittance into the Chapel Royal of His Highness King Louis XII

Once again ‘fate’ in the form of yet another ‘Visconti’, Louis XII, the grandson of Valentina Visconti, intervened.35 In 1499 Louis presumed upon his ‘inheritance’ by taking over Milan, assisted by his other Francophile friend Ercole d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. Among his prisoners were my patrons, Ludovico and Ascanio Sforza. Of course, as one of their more valuable servants, I automatically accompanied them back home to France, in this case to Blois. 

35. As Charles VIII had no heirs, after his sudden death in 1498, Louis II of Orléans became overnight the new French king as Louis XII. He was the son of Charles d’Orleans, friend/colleague/rival ruler-poet of Rene d’Anjou. The House of Orléans, like the House of Anjou, was a cadet branch of the French royal House of Valois: Louis XII’s grandfather and Charles VIII’s great-grandfather were brothers. Louis XII’s main residence (and actually the place of his birth) was the castle of Blois.There is enough circumstantial evidence to support the assumption that after Milan had been taken over by Louis XII, Josquin entered his service and remained there until the spring of 1503, when he left for Ferrara to start his tenure with Ercole I d’Este. (GMO Josquin) 

La mort de mon ‘bon père’ Ockeghem. My homage Nymphes des Bois

While His “heedless” Royal Majesty Charles VIII of France was busy licking his wounds after his failed attempt to conquer Italy, my beloved Ockeghem died – on the 6th of February 1497. From the moment I first heard of my mentor’s death, I was preoccupied with my desire to compose something worthy of his memory, and equal to the series of lamentations he, Busnoys and Hémart had composed upon the death of their bon père, Dufay, in 1474.36 That wish would still have to await the completion of the Déploration which the Burgundian court poet, my colleague Molinet, was writing for Ockeghem. This in turn was dependent upon the completion of Louis’ court poet Crétin’s lamentation, which ran to 420 lines.37 Finally, in 1500 I could begin. Again, in this limited space I can only give a hint of the myriad ways in which I tried to show my awe for this master, who was above all infinitely patient and inspiring. Because of the complexity of his Latin masses and motets, he gained the reputation – especially by those who had not had the great fortune of studying under and working with him – of being impossibly abstruse and abstract. In my lamentation I was determined to prove that, as Tinctoris wrote in his treatise Complexus effectuum musices, which I borrowed from Gaffurio while in Milan: For the more one has attained perfection in this art, the more one is delighted by it, since one apprehends its nature both inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly through the intellective power through which one understands proper composition and performance, and outwardly through the auditive power, through which one perceives the sweetness of consonances. Only such is one truly able to judge and take delight in music.38 

36. Lamenting the death of a fellow musician became common during the 15th century. Usually these déplorations not only paid homage through their texts, but also through their music, by referring to musical techniques and traits typical for the deceased. 

37. After the death of Johannes Ockeghem in 1497, Guillaume Crétin, poet and singer in the French royal chapel under Ockeghem, wrote a 420 line lament. Due to its length this déploration was unfit to be set to music. However, within the poem, he encouraged his older colleague, the famous Burgundian poet Jean Molinet, to write ‘quelque petit volume’ as well. Molinet responded with a short, but moving poem, and it is this Nymphes des bois which Josquin famously set to music. (Jones, p. 64) Like Crétin’s poem, Molinets shows all the characteristics of the lament: the presence of mythological beings, the encouragement to famous singers to deplore their colleague’s death – with such expressions as ‘bon père’ – and his rise to glory’. (Jones, pp. 50 and further) This all in the language of the grand rhéthorique, displaying (through such devices as rhyme, internal parallels in structure, wordplay and assonance, all within the required number of syllables) sheer joy in the structure and – more importantly – the sound of the French language. (Jones, summarized on page 2) The line Doct’, elegant de corps et non point trappe” is not in Molinet’s original poem and was added by Josquin as a personal note. Although this line disrupts the regularity of the poem’s overall structure, it accords with the other lines with regard to length and rhyme, adding another “trappe” to the equation. 

38. (Tinctoris, pp.172-3) 

In the guise of a 5-voice French chanson I proceeded to conceal as many of Ockeghem’s ‘disguises’ as possible. These included: the transformation of the chanted Introitus for the mass for the dead from F to E, the mode which he would call ‘my own mode’.39 Just listen to his Missa Mi-mi, his Intemerata mater dei, his chansons Presque trainsi and S’elle m’amera/Petite camusette; Ockeghem liked this mode because it had so many possibilities. I employed its characteristic B flat and B natural versions throughout my homage, combining them with at least as many harmonic possibilities as would he; I channelized the chant into a drawn-out cantus firmus, organized around various manipulations of the metrical unit three; in the 4 chanson voices I followed Ockeghem’s example of minimizing structural uniformity by employing constantly overlapping entrances and irregular phrase lengths; I imitated his signature device of speeding up, shortening and overlapping his approach to final cadences; I employed three of his favorite melodic ‘mottos’ in the mi mode – which I leave for you to discover –, one of which I adopted as my own signature tune; and finally, I did all this to honor Ockeghem’s world of rhétorique, now, like him, no longer considered to be modern.40 

39. Josquin notated the Introtius Requiem aeternam chant in its original guise on Fa, adding a canon instructing the singer to actually sing a semitone lower to avoid noys et debat”. 

40. Not only the music itself, but also its notation bears reference to Ockeghem: like several of his works – most prominently his Missa Cuiusvis toni – the best source of Nymphes des Bois (the so-called Medici Codex), gives the piece without clefs. Josquin uses the flat sign to indicate the positions of the Fa. Inspired by Molinet’s line “Accoultrez vo d'habitz de doeul” (which encourages him and his fellow singers to dress up in their black mourning robes), Josquin decided to do the same with his lament, adorning it also with black notes (Jones, p. 75). It is due to the austere beauty of Josquin’s composition – employing several of Ockeghem’s own chanson-inspired techniques, while remaining ‘vintage Josquin’ – that Nymphes des bois has become his deservedly most frequently sung composition. 

The death of Jacobus Obrecht, my sucessor at the Ferrarese court of Duke Ercole d’Este

Although I had little opportunity to meet my younger Burgundian colleague Jacobus Obrecht, I had sung and studied some of his considerable output, and was therefore well aware of the reasons for his steadily increasing fame.41 I was pleased that he could return to Ercole’s court after my departure in 1504 for Condé. Little did I know at that moment that both he and our respected Duke would both succumb to the plague very soon afterward. Therefore did I feel compelled to compose my second homage to him. Again, – as with Ockeghem – based as much as possible on Obrecht’s own practices. Although I did not know him personally, I had heard from other colleagues who knew us both, that he had much admiration for my music. His year as magister puerorum in Dufay’s cathedral in Cambrai in the 1480’s might have afforded further support for that impression. 

41. Glareanus in his Dodecachordon: it is said that [Obrecht] worked with such quickness of device and fertility of invention, that, in a single night he composed an excellent Mass, and one which was also admired by learned men. All the monuments of this man have a certain wonderful majesty and an innate quality of moderation. He certainly was not such a lover of the unusual as was Josquin. Indeed, he did display his skill but without ostentation, as if he may have preferred to await the judgment of the listener rather than to exalt himself. (Glareanus, pp. 277-278) 
As Obrecht’s lament upon the death of his father, who had been a well-known city trumpeter in Ghent, stated, Willem Obrecht had died on St. Cecilia’s day 1488. Earlier that same year Jacob had returned to Bruges after his extended leave of absence at Ercole’s court in Ferrara. After his father’s death Jacob composed a bi-textual 4-voice tribute to him, Mille Quingentis. Like my Nymphes for my ‘father’, it was based on the Introitus Requiem eternam, but now transposed from its normal F mode to that on E, which immediately lent it more gravitas. Yes, indeed! Obrecht’s version was the earlier of the two! For my own tribute to Obrecht I elected to treat the Introitus canonically at the fifth and in its original F mode.42 For the four newly composed voices I chose a prayer asking for the remission of sins for the deceased: Absolve, quesumus, domine, animam famuli tui.... Amen. Requiescat in pace. Although normally sung only at the end of Vespers, I concluded my peroratio for Obrecht with the formula Requiscat in pace. Amen, in all voices, exactly as I had done in my lament for Ockeghem. While my tribute retained the original F mode of the Requiem, I ‘transposed’ the peroratio to E mi, partially in recognition of Obrecht’s own choice of modes for his tribute to his father.  42. Like Nymphes deBois, in its only source Josquin’s Absolve quaesumus, Domine is entirely written in black notes – only this time with the usual clefs and in its original mode of F. The Introitus Requiem aeternam now appears in canon on C, answered a fifth lower on F. 
As choirboys Obrecht and I underwent very different schoolings. Although we were both ‘Burgundian’, his training was in the Flemish-speaking province of Brabant. Mine in the French-speaking province of Hainault. Our ways of composing reflect this difference. Linguistically and musically speaking it was natural for me to follow in Ockeghem’s footsteps. It was much more difficult for Obrecht to step into mine, or even for me into his.43  43. Unless a composer is bilingual from birth, he will automatically hear his Latin through his own first language. Latin-texted music – even when specifically intended for Italian singers – had the same cadence and ‘drive to the end’ as his native French tongue. The Flemish pronunciation of Latin was – save for some ‘Flemished’ vowels and consonants – more similar to the Italian. 

Example 4

Example 5


While remaining my aging French-speaking self – with my own by then signature quirks – I could still insert certain obvious ‘Jacobian’ trademarks into my eulogy for him. The most obvious one is found in the sequence of two rising fourths which comprise the head-motif of Absolve, a pattern which I have often used, but only once – here! – as a head-motif. Obrecht employed the same sequence as head-motif –and only once! – in the Credo of his Missa Fortuna desperata.44 Obrecht’s non cantus prius factus text is comprised of nine lines of verse. Because of its length he repeats the Requiem text three times in proportionately increasing tempi, while retaining the same number of rests between each phrase. My Absolve text is much shorter, so no repetition of the Requiem cantus prius factus is necessary. However I have retained the uniform lengths of Obrecht’s rests. A further, more obviously Jacobian, allusion occurs on the words “animam famuli” – soul of thy servant! –, in which I unabashedly imitate one of Obrecht’s own favorite devices, here found as a series of five descending parallel 10ths. As my ultimate – and most obvious – token of homage, I asked all four of my non-Requiem voices to sing the name “Jacobi” for a total of 12 times, this in a sequence of 24 – minus 1! – unadorned semibreves! Although one can never be sure, I hope I am the only one until now to know that I am here actually imitating that moment in Obrecht’s Mille quingentis when he also allows the superius and bassus to sing his own name “Jacobum”, also in simple semibreves, and – with the required humility – only once.45 Which introduces my ‘minus 1’ confession, namely that my slightly elaborated “Jacobi” is an ascending 5-note copy of my good colleague’s own melodic setting of his name.46 N.B. As you might have suspected, although my model here is not Ockeghem, by this time in my life I am obliged to allow three of my voices to sing ‘Amen’ on my own signature motif, ‘sol..mi mi’, for a total of five times. 

44. Both Obrecht’s Missa Fortuna desperata and Josquin’s mass based on the same Italian frottola – perhaps written in a spirit of competition, or at least emulation – are included in the commemoration choirbook for Obrecht, MS α.M.1.2. in the Biblioteca Estense in Modena, Italy. (ff. 96v-114r and ff. 114v-127r respectively) (Elders, p. 19) 

45. Example 4. Mille Quingentis by Jacob Obrecht, bar 104-107. Jacobum”. 

46. Example 5. Absolve quesumus, Domine by Josquin Desprez, bar 23-26. “Jacobi”.   

And then – after Obrecht – there was Brumel

For differing periods in our professional lives, Antoine Brumel and I held positions at the courts of various members of the – hopelessly extended – French royal family. And once, when he was in the royal chapel of Charles VIII – as this foolhardy monarch descended upon Rome on his way to conquer the Kingdom of Naples – we were both in Rome, I on the verge of leaving the papal chapel.47 My younger colleague and I were good and compatible colleagues and very much aware of each other’s music.48 At a second significant juncture we were in the same city at the same time, Paris. I had just been escorted back to France with my erstwhile employers, Ascanio and Lodovico Sforza, and – seemingly with the blessing of the King – was busy negotiating with his ally Duke Ercole d’Este for the position of maestro di cappella at his court in Ferrara. At this moment, although we ourselves were not yet aware of that fact, our destinies were slowly converging. After the sudden death of the Duke from the plague in 1505, Ercole was succeeded by his son Alfonso, who promptly dismissed Obrecht, who, shortly after, also succumbed to the plague. From my colleagues at court, I heard that, as his father, Alfonso was both an avid patron of the arts and an astute politician. In fact he maintained his loyalty to King Louis until Louis’ death in 1515. The d’Este family loyalty must certainly have aided him in his negotiations with the French crown for permission to acquire Brumel as his new chapelmaster in 1506, a position which Brumel retained until 1510, when – in the political fallout of this loyalty – Alfonso’s entire chapel was disbanded, leaving Brumel ‘high and dry’. It was with genuine grief that I heard of his premature death a couple of years thereafter. The reason I will now divulge. Alfonso was in one crucial respect markedly more modern than his father. Not only was he a patron of some of the most famous Italian artists [Titian] and poets [Ariosto] of the early 16th century, but he had a soft spot for Italian homophony, with its parallel thirds on top, interspersed with easily hearable imitation, simple binary and ternary meters and clearly constructed texts, intelligibly ‘intoned’ and predominantly in the top voice(s). These characteristics were exemplified by the spiritual lauda in Latin and the secular frottola in Italian, elevated forms of the popular song traditions loved by all Italians. Brumel was still relatively young and could easily adapt his style – which was already becoming steadily more vertical and triadic – to a new idiom. Judging from what he was increasingly composing in that period, one would be hard pressed to believe that Alfonso d’Este was his very first – and, sadly, his last – Italian benefactor. His newly adopted country, which had always been more tonal and melodically top-heavy than the French, accepted him with open arms. 

47. Circumstantial evidence suggests that somewhere between 1492 and 1497 Brumel might well have been a member of the French royal chapel, therefore during the same period as Loyset Compère, who had sung for three years during the 1470s in the Milanese ducal chapel, and whose music since that time had become distinctly italianate in style. As a royal singer, Brumel is likely to have accompanied King Charles VIII of France on his campaign through Italy in 1494, providing himself with ample opportunity to become personally acquainted with the Italian musical ‘idioms’. (Jones, pp. 199-104) 

48. In his Dodecachordon Glareanus claimed that Josquin and Brumel wrote the Glorias of their respective Missae de beata Maria virgine in a sort of friendly competition: when the symphonetae had perceived the magnificence of these [Mixolydian and Hypomixolydian] modes through the old examples of church songs, they were fired with enthusiasm, as it were, and in a certain very laudable competition expended all their efforts on this song, the Et in terra pax, concerning the most holy Virgin and Queen of Heaven, Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, indeed, especially Antoine Brumel and our Josquin des Prez, both already approaching extreme old age. (Glareanus p. 268) In the end Glareanus (who admits to his own personal bias) prefers Josquin over Brumel: In this song Brumel has omitted absolutely nothing in displaying his skill to singers, but rather with all the intense vigor of his talent he has taken pains to leave posterity a proof of his ability. Yet in my own opinion Josquin has by far excelled him in natural ability and keenness of intellect, and has borne himself this rivalry in such a way that nature, the mother of all, as if wishing to create a most perfect structure from the four elements, seems to me to have exerted her utmost strength so that a better song could not be invented. (Glareanus p. 268) The comparison doesn’t seem to apply to the other mass sections however, which differ in many ways. The fact that Josquin’s Gloria is also transmitted separately seems to imply that the competition – if there ever was one – was never intended to include their entire Masses. (Rodin, pp. 7, 23). 

I am not sure when – certainly at some time between Brumel’s first acquaintance with the Italian lauda during the military campaign of Charles VIII, in the mid ‘90s, and his second return in 1506 – he composed what was to become [as was later his 12-voice Missa Et ecce terre motus] a top hit throughout Europe, namely his 3-voice lauda motet Mater patris et filia.49 I clearly remember my own pleasurable surprise the first time I sang it, and could recognize Brumel’s affinity with the quixotic quality of the Italian love for sudden displays of contrasting emotional states. Here was a ‘simple’, heartfelt, 3-voice, quintessentially Italian prayer of supplication to Mary, the Mother of the Father, from ‘this valley of misery’. Here was a short 13-line litany which broke all the ‘règles de la rhétorique’, and thereby bypassed the barriers we ‘French’ makers of music had constructed between our music and the human heart. My immediate reaction upon hearing it was that I wanted to compose an equally passionate – and therefore to be passionately sung! – mass in which these quintessentially Italian characteristics – which my esteemed colleague had so perfectly captured in his miniature lauda motet – could be expressed, but now in the largest and most venerated genre of all. Little did I know then that my second successor at the Ferrarese court would also enter the realm of glory – Brumel’s “regnum patris” – so much earlier than I would. As Madama Fortuna decreed, my desire to set the living composer Brumel in the sun would become my humble gift to a dear departed friend who had helped to pave the way for an entirely new way of ‘making music’.  49. Brumel’s motet has come to us in 7 sources, all but one from Brumel’s lifetime. 3 are from Spain, 3 from Italy and 1 (posthumously copied by Glareanus) from Switzerland. Due to the close ties between Burgundy and Spain, cemented by the marriage of Philip the Fair with Joanne of Castile – as attested to by the predominantly Franco-Flemish repertory of the so-called Cancionero de Segovia – the Spanish sources appear to be the most reliable. 
So? First and foremost I gave every textual utterance in my Missa Mater patris its own separate and contrasting expressive gesture. In contradistinction to my usual nuanced [Franco-Flemish] polyphonic manipulation of every textual phrase, I simply followed the lead of Brumel’s lauda text and musical setting by expanding and adjusting clearly demarcated and contrasting phrases of the motet to fit compatible sections in the mass texts. As my textual lauda models were my constant reference, they were also my sources of inspiration for the directions my expansions took. For example: 1. The extended 2-voice canons which introduce all of the five major movements of the mass are simply lengthened adaptations of the opening “Mater patris et filia” canon. The exceedingly long 2-voice canons of the Pleni and Benedictus – at a distance of a breve and the interval of a second! – are based on small cells in the motet. 2. The myriad number of passages for two, three, and even four voices in pseudo parallel motion, with a superfluity of parallel thirds in the top two voices are simply extensions of the 2-voice, parallel third duets in Brumel’s motet, the text “Mulierum letitia” being the first and most blatant example. In my Osanna this device is expanded in length and numbers of voices to encompass virtually the entire movement. In the process I attempt, more or less successfully, to confuse both the singers and the auditors to the point at which they are sometimes no longer sure of the original mode.   

Example 6

Example 7


3. Although the falsobordone device permeates the entire mass, Brumel uses it for only two very small but significant moments, the ‘shocking’ final chord of the faulx bourdon phrase on the word “eximia” – excessively bright!50 – and three of the syllables in the slow and deeply affective Burgundian faulx bourdon cum-falsobordone treatment of the words “O-bo-ne-je-su-fi-li-de-i”. In my mass the most extreme example of this occurs in the “Credo”, in which more or less half of the total of 116 breves is sung in falsobordone51, with each phrase based on a different melodic/textual fragment of the motet. 4. Brumel’s “Audi nostra suspiria” text is sung as a recitative on two notes which conform to the cadence of the prosody, not the metric structure. I use this simple device for many of the most expressive moments in my mass. 5. As is very common in frottole or laude, Brumel’s lauda motet ends in ternary meter. I blatantly copied this section in the Gloria and the Credo, only applying the metrically exactly equivalent mass texts to that of the final text of the motet. 6. My ultimate gift to my friend may be heard in my Agnus dei III. That I leave for you to discover.  50. Example 6. Mater patris et filia by Antoine Brumel, bar 14-21. The setting of the word “Eximia” seems to proceed as a regular faux bourdon (asterisks), but cadences unexpectedly – with an upward leap of a fourth in the leading voice – to a falsobordone third above the expected resolution, forcing the tenor to follow (exclamation mark). 51. Example 7. Missa mater patris et filia by Josquin Desprez, bar 32-34. Falsobordone with parallel thirds in the top voices.  

And... then... After... Josquin... there... was... WILLAERT?

This coda to Josquin’s ‘memorable’ life is devoted to an anonymous 7-voice tribute to Josquin. This motet – a second Absolve/Requiem – has been incompletely preserved in three partbooks with the name MS s.s. (3) and (4), located in the Fondo Musicale of the Archivio del Duomo in Piacenza, 195 kilometers from Ferrara. Fortuitously, two of the remaining parts are the lowest voices, bassus I and II (with their Absolve texts). The third extant partbook is that of the tenor canon on the Requiem eternam chant. However, unlike Josquin’s, Anon’s imitation is at the fifth above – and twice as slow! Also in contradistinction to Josquin’s motet – in which the name of the dedicatee has been replaced with “N” (for “Nomen”) – in the anonymous Absolve the name “Josquini” is sung four times by the two bassi. In another stroke of good fortune the style and content of the two lowest voices resemble that of Josquin’s motet enough that these compilers of Josquin’s memoria were inspired to try their hands at supplying the three missing upper voices. (The index at the beginning of all three partbooks gives the name and the number of voices of the motet.) The result of several months of work you may hear – and judge – in our CD Josquin Desprez: In memoria mea. Of course we had to affix the name of a possible composer to this tribute, the style of which indicates a date close to the death of Josquin in 1521. As further luck would have it, in the Piacenza partbooks the most concordances with other sources are those of the Flemish composer Adrian Willaert, who was a singer in the chapel of Cardinal Ippolito I d’Este of Ferrara in 1515, in that of his brother Duke Alfonso from 1520 to 1525, and, also in 1525, in that of Ippolito II d’Este in Milan. As one tale has it, Willaert’s early style resembled that of Josquin enough so that when Willaert heard the singers of the papal chapel singing his motet Verbum bonum et suave in 1515 – thinking it was by Josquin – they were quite disappointed when he hastened to correct them. From that moment they refused to sing it any more. Be that as it may, we lowly 21st century respecters of Willaert’s(?) tribute, have had a wonderful time adding our bit of homage to that of his! Which simply proves that Josquin’s music is truly timeless. 

Dr. Rebecca Stewart

Drs. Joep van Buchem





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