Requiem (Ockeghem)

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The Requiem, by Johannes Ockeghem (c.1410 – 1497), is a polyphonic setting of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, the Missa pro defunctis, the Mass for the dead. It is the earliest polyphonic setting of the Requiem Mass to have survived, and remains one of Ockeghem's most famous and often-performed compositions.[1] A setting by Guillaume Dufay, probably written before Ockeghem's for use by the Order of the Golden Fleece, has not survived.

Ockeghem's Requiem is unusual compared to both his other works and other settings of the Requiem. Stylistically the movements are all very different from each other; each uses a paraphrase technique for the original Gregorian chant, something Ockeghem did rarely; and the selection of movements is unusual compared to other Requiem masses.

It calls for four voices, and is in five parts:

Introitus: Requiem aeternam
Graduale: Si ambulem
Tractus: Sicut cervus desiderat
Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe

Since it lacks a Sanctus, Communion or Agnus Dei, most scholars consider it incomplete.[2] It survives in only one manuscript source, the Chigi Codex. Since this collection seems to have been intended as a complete collection of Ockeghem's music,[3] the absence of these movements was probably because they were uavailable either to the copyist or in legible condition. Blank opening sections in the Codex also imply that at least one other movement, probably a three-voice setting of the Communion in a more sedate style recalling the opening Introit, was originally intended to close the work.[4] Movements appear to be missing in two other Masses transcribed in the Codex as well; Ma maistresse and Fors seulement.[5]

The style of the Ockeghem's Requiem is appropriately austere for a setting of the Mass for the Dead; indeed, the lack of polyphonic settings of the Requiem until the late 15th century was probably due to the perception that polyphony was not sober enough for such a purpose.[6] Portions of the work, especially the opening Introit, are written in the treble-dominated style reminiscent of the first half of the 15th century, with the chant in the topmost voice (superius) and the accompanying voices singing mostly in parallel motion in a fauxbourdon-like manner. Within each movement there are subsections for two or three voices which provide contrast with the fuller four-voice textures that surround them and provide a sense of climax, a procedure typical of Ockeghem.[7]

The closing movement, the Offertory, is the most contrapuntally complex, and may have been intended as the climax of the entire composition.[4][7]

Precise dating of the Requiem has not been possible. Richard Wexler proposed 1461, the year of Charles VII's death, a monarch to whom Ockeghem owed a debt of gratitude and for whom he would likely have composed a Requiem.[8] If this date is correct, Ockeghem's Requiem could have predated the lost one of Dufay, the date of which is also speculative. Another possibility is that Ockeghem may have composed it instead for the death of Louis XI in 1483, or even towards the end of his own life; poet Guillaume Crétin alludes to the composition of a possibly recent Requiem in his Déploration, written on the death of Ockeghem.[9]


  • Fabrice Fitch, Johannes Ockeghem: Masses and Models. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 1997. ISBN 2-85203-735-1
  • Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York: Norton, 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
  • Leeman L. Perkins: "Jean de Ockeghem", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed March 9, 2006), (subscription access)
  • Fabrice Fitch: "Requiem, 2", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed March 9, 2006), (subscription access)
  • Meinolf Brüser, liner notes to CD Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG) 605, Lamentations: Festa – Ockeghem – Gombert. 2004.
  • Richard Wexler: "Which Franco-Netherlander Composed the First Polyphonic Requiem Mass?" Netherlandic Studies I, p. 71-6. Lanham (Maryland), 1982.


  1. ^ Fitch, p. 195.
  2. ^ Fitch, Grove online
  3. ^ Fitch, p. 210-211
  4. ^ a b Fitch, p. 201
  5. ^ Fitch, p. 210-211.
  6. ^ Brüser
  7. ^ a b Perkins, Grove
  8. ^ Wexler
  9. ^ Fitch, p. 204