- JOSQUIN DES PREZ (Jossequin Lebloitte dit Des Prez)
- (c. 1455-1521)
Josquin des Prez was considered by his contemporaries and succeeding generations to be the most important composer of the Renaissance. Significantly, he has remained a shadowy figure whose biography and canon of works have been in much dispute.We now know that he was born in the region near Conde-sur-Eschaut where he grew up and later died. He has evidently been confused with another musician, a Josse de Kessellia, who was employed at the cathedral and the ducal court of Rene of Anjou in Provence from 1475. At Rene's death he may have come into the employ of King Louis XI of France. From 1484 he worked for Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, an association that may have lasted for fifteen years or longer. From 1489 to at least 1495 Josquin was a member of the papal chapel, the Cappella Sistina. Sometime afterwards, perhaps by 1497, he was at the French court of Charles VIII and Louis XII, though not formally in royal employ. His Nymphes des bois, written on the death of Johannes Ockeghem (d. 1497), was probably composed there. He was definitely at the French court in 1501 and again in 1503. From April 1503 to March 1504 Josquin was maestro di cappella to Duke Ercole I d'Este in Ferrara. He returned in 1504 to Conde as provost of the cathedral, an appointment perhaps engineered by Philip the Fair, duke of Burgundy and king of Castile. Josquin remained in Conde for the rest of his life.Josquin's fame and reputation seem to have been the cause of the many misattributions of works to him. Early printers seem to have used his name for marketing purposes, and Martin Luther's* avowed love of Josquin's music gave license to his followers to put the composer's name on any number of works. Heinrich Glarean* also falsely ascribed numerous works to Josquin and passed on many apocryphal anecdotes about his life.The actual numbers of his works are in dispute, as is the chronology of these works. We can be sure that he wrote approximately sixty motets for three to six voices, about a dozen masses, twenty French chansons, perhaps three Italiantexted works, and five instrumental or untexted pieces. Although he is sometimes given sole credit for transforming the style of composition, he should be recognized as the leader of his generation, which did indeed completely change the way music was written. The new style inaugurated by Josquin and his contemporaries included the use of voice pairs in fuguelike imitation as the principal compositional device. They introduced the technique of incorporating the whole four-voice texture of a model as the basis of the composition of mass ordinary cycles (called imitation or parody masses). They paralleled this with paraphrases of chants in all voices when chants were used as models. In secular music Josquin's generation presided over the end of the medieval fixed forms of French chansons and the beginnings of a new simpler style, and also the reemergence of Italian-texted part songs. In Josquin's personal style one finds tight concentration of musical motives and gestures that he uses to spin out his melodies, a kind of continuous variation technique. Among his most highly regarded works are the motet Ave Maria... virgo serena, a 4, probably written in the early 1480s; the large setting of Psalm 50, Miserere mei Deus, a 5, commissioned by Ercole d'Este and imbued with the teachings of Savonarola; and the Missa Pange lingua, based on the Marian hymn.BibliographyJosquin des Prez, Werken, ed. A. Smijers et al., 1921—69.G. Reese and J. Noble, "Josquin Des Prez," in The New Grove Dictionary ofMusic and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie, vol. 9, 1980: 713—38.Mitchell Brauner
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.