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Topic Josquin Des Pres English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1562 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Josquin des Pres is a prodigy from the late 15th century who introduces a new level of quality into Western music. Little is known about him, with no certain dates of birth or death. He set new standards on how strong and meaningful the text in musical pieces should be. While gaining fame from Dukes and Kings, other authors started showing despise towards him. He was one of the authors who valued their work too much and never even once went wrong. Influenced by the Franco-Flemish School, he continued the school’s tradition. He now is one of the most recognized renaissance authors.


1.Thesis: Why was Josquin’s art making other contemporary artists of his time furious, but over time was accepted as a musical genius? Seeing the influence he had over many compositors of his time, other great contemporary authors showed jealousy and anger towards his recognition and style.

2. Introduction: Josquin des Pres

3.1st Support: Josquin’s music, text and influences.

-Explaining Josquin’s pieces

4.2nd Support: Justifying the other authors’ anger

-Describing some of their work and skills

5.3rd Support: Josquin’s skills and musical character

-Explaining his techniques and masteries

6.4th Support: Hidden messages in Josquin’s works

-Encrypted messages that he may have hidden in his pieces

Josquin Des Pres


Topic: Also called Des Prés or Després, French musical composer, was born, probably in Condé in the Hennegau, about 1445. He was a pupil of Ockenheim, and himself one of the most learned musicians of his time. In spite of his great fame, the accounts of his life are vague and the dates contradictory. No composer in Western music history, can be compared in significance with Josquin, about whom, as an author very little is known. The most complete list of his compositions — consisting of masses, motets, psalms and other pieces of sacred music will be found in Fétis. The largest collection of his manuscript works, containing no less than twenty masses, is in the possession of the papal chapel in Rome. In his lifetime Des Préz was honored as an eminent composer. While all the collected archival data concerning his biography has fixed the year and day of his death, his date of birth can’t be completely determined with all of the existing data about him. With earlier research, the generally accepted time of his birth was year 1440. Some research (Strunk, Source Readings in Music History) even shows possibilities of ‘Des Prez’ being just a nickname, and ‘Lebloitte’ being his true family name. Not all of his life journeys and whereabouts are recorded and documented. Not to be misplaced with a singer in the Cathedral of Milan in 1459 of the same name, as some biographies say (Richard Sherr, The Josquin Companion). Several years of his life he passed in the Sforza’s service, and as a companion of Cardinal of Cardinal Ascanio. There are two notarial acts that testify to Josquin’s presence in Aix-en-Provence in 1477. There, he was a singer in the service of the titular King of Sicily – Rend of Anjou. It has been recorded that he was employed as the chapel master at the Este Court in Ferrara. The last years of his life he spent in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. There, he held the post of Provost of the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame. His works weren’t left unnoticed by other authors from that time, which brings us the question:

Why was Josquin’s art making other contemporary artists of his time furious, but over time was accepted as a musical genius?

The attention he got made some people understand how brilliant he is, and also made other artists mad. He had undeniably good skills, which made the jealousy of some to surface.

The reason why Josquin’s art was so noticeable and fostered such anger among other artist in that time, was its remarkable expressivity, which went to a far greater extent than anyone before him. His most powerful and audacious music is to be found in his motets (which he had written about a 100 or so). The reason why his motets sound much more powerful than his Masses is the text – he had much bigger freedom of text choice with the motets.

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“He is the master of the notes. They must do as he wills; as for the other composers, they have to do as the notes will” – Martin Luther on Josquin’s art. Josquin always attempted to convey the meaning of the words he set on a much higher level than other artists of his time. Undoubtedly, brilliant strokes of this sort were the ones that moved Martin Luther. Even though his personality was a little tough, that’s what made him so popular, along with the fact that he knew his own worth as he never accepted underpayments.

Even if Josquin towered above his contemporaries, that does not devalue their work. For, he was surrounded by a host of lesser luminaries, substantial composers in their own right. Other more prominent names in that time were authors like Heinrich Isaac and Pierre de la Rue. However, their works never reflected their musical personalities, as they left just a vague impression of character and emotion in them. It can be said that they were just a little more than carbon copies of Josquin. For example, Obrecht’s music lacks the textural variety, rhythmic animation and emotional impact of Josquin, or for that matter the brooding whimsy of Ockeghem’s, but it does possess some warmth and quirky spontaneity that are immediately likeable. On the other hand, La Rue writes in a richly textured style full of contrapuntal artifice and somber dignity. The greatest of Josquin’s contemporaries was undoubtedly Heinrich Isaac – even more versatile and cosmopolitan than Josquin himself, and a master of emotional penetration.

One of the other reasons, probably, why Josquin’s work infuriated so many other artists in his time was his “parody” masses in which entire contrapuntal complexes are borrowed from an earlier source. The chanson El grillo, with its imitation of the cricket, is a fine jeu d’esprit, as is the light-hearted Scaramella va alla guerra.

Apart from the fact that as a leader in the most fundamental stylistic shift of the High Renaissance, Josquin continued to place music more and more at the service of text, Josquin’s secular music is accordingly broad in its stylistic range, and it has even been suggested that much of it was intended for instrumental performance. Priority was also given to text in larger and more sophisticated ways, letting details of the structure of the poetry dictate elements of the musical progression, a practice which at his best Josquin could perform in particularly unselfconscious and compelling ways. This brings us to the hypothesis, that, maybe the reason Josquin’s sophisticated technique and skill was so hated by other authors in his time, just because he was a prodigy in that area. And unlike others, Josquin’s subsequent reputation rests both on his response to text and his development of pervasive imitation as a technique for straightforward settings able to support larger structures. Others weren’t as good in technique and some just weren’t powerful enough artists to compete with this.

On the other hand, many artists, along with other have looked up and still look up to the works that Josquin has created. As mentioned above, his price was always a pitch higher than of all the others, and also, he was not one that could play or compose anything at any time. Even with his attitude about his work, the people he worked for never hesitated to choose him above the others.

Taken from research (Clutterham, Evidence for a Later Dating), people acknowledge Josquin as a genius because of one or more of the following reasons: his technique, virtuosity, power, encrypted hidden messages or strongly defined musical character.

Through, and in spite of, all the analyses of motivic interpolation from or to other pieces both by the composer himself and by other composers and the twisting and interpretations to which the text and even its letters have been subjected, we must first acknowledge that Josquin des Prez wrote a miniature stylistic masterpiece. Illibata Dei virgo nutrix is part of the complete works of Josquin des Prez which collection was begun by Father Albert Smijers in the early part of this century. Beginning with Smijers, most published analyses have placed Illibata among Josquin’s earliest works, a group largely comprised of motets composed before 1500. It is a five-voice Tenor Marian motet built on two rhymed verses, which Josquin also authored. The group of compositions into which it is classified is the “least well defined” group which “includes prayers, poems of devotion, songs of praise, and the like, many of them addressed to or in honor of “Christ or the Virgin Mary.”

The non-liturgical, non-Biblical verse may define the motet’s usage as “intended for performance in ritual or votive services in royal chapels or collegiate churches.”


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