Josquin des Prez

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A 1611 woodcut of Josquin des Prez, possibly copied from a now-lost oil painting made during his lifetime.[1] There have been doubts concerning whether this depiction is an accurate likeness,[2] see § Portraits

Josquin Lebloitte dit des Prez (c. 1450–1455 – 27 August 1521) was a composer of High Renaissance music, variously described as 'French' or 'Franco-Flemish'. A central figure of the Franco-Flemish School, he is considered among the greatest composers of the Renaissance, and had a profound influence on the music of 16th-century Europe. Building on the work of his predecessors Guillaume Du Fay and Johannes Ockeghem, he developed a complex style of expressive—and often imitativepolyphony which informs much of his work. He further emphasized the relationship between text and music, and departed from the early Renaissance tendency towards lengthy melismatic lines, preferring to use shorter, repeated motifs between voices. A singer himself, Josquin's compositions are chiefly vocal, and include masses, motets and a variety of secular chansons.

Josquin's biography has been continually revised by modern scholarship but remains highly uncertain. Little is known of his early years; he may have been an altar boy and educated at the Cambrai Cathedral or under Ockeghem. By 1477 he was in the choir of René of Anjou and then probably served under Louis XI of France. By now a wealthy man, throughout the 1480s Josquin traveled Italy with the Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, may have worked in Hungary for king Matthias Corvinus, and wrote the well-known motet Ave Maria ... Virgo serena, and the popular chansons Adieu mes amours and Que vous ma dame. He served Pope Innocent VIII and Pope Alexander VI in Rome, Louis XII in France, and Ercole I d'Este in Ferrara. Many of his works were published by Ottaviano Petrucci in the early 16th century, including the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae. During his final years in Condé, Josquin produced some of his most admired works, including the masses Missa de Beata Virgine and Missa Pange lingua; the motets Benedicta es, Inviolata, Pater noster–Ave Maria and Praeter rerum seriem; and the chansons Mille regretz, Nimphes, nappés and Plus nulz regretz.

Influential both during and after his lifetime, Josquin has been described as the first Western composer who gained posthumous fame. His music was widely performed and imitated throughout 16th-century Europe, and was highly praised by Martin Luther and the music theorists Heinrich Glarean and Gioseffo Zarlino. During the Baroque era, Josquin's reputation became overshadowed by the Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, though he was still given attention by some theorists and music historians. During the 20th century early music revival, landmark publications by August Wilhelm Ambros, Albert Smijers, Helmuth Osthoff and Edward Lowinsky, and a successful academic conference led to his reevaluation as a central figure in Renaissance music. The extent of this reevaluation has led to recent controversy over whether he has been unrealistically apotheosized over his contemporaries, particularly in light of over a hundred attributions now considered dubious. He continues to draw interest in the 21st century and his music is frequently recorded, central in the repertoire of early music ensembles, and the subject of continuing scholarship. He was celebrated worldwide on the 500th anniversary of his death in 2021.


Josquin's full name, 'Josquin Lebloitte dit des Prez', became known to scholars in the late 20th century[3] from a pair of 1483 documents found in Condé-sur-l'Escaut, where he is referred to as the nephew of Gille Lebloitte dit des Prez and the son of Gossard Lebloitte dit des Prez.[4] His first name 'Josquin' is a diminutive form of Josse, the French form of the name of a Judoc, a Breton saint of the 7th century.[5] The name 'Josquin' was common in Flanders and Northern France during the 15th and 16th centuries.[6] Other documents indicate that the surname des Prez had been used by the family for at least two generations, possibly to distinguish them from other branches of the Lebloitte family.[7] At the time, the name "Lebloitte" was rare and the reason that Josquin's family took up the more common surname "des Prez" as their dit name remains uncertain.[8]

His name has many spellings in contemporary records: his first name is spelled as Gosse, Gossequin, Jodocus, Joskin, Josquinus, Josse, Jossequin, Judocus, and Juschino; and his surname is given as a Prato, de Prato, Pratensis, de Prés, Desprez, des Prés and des Près.[6] In his motet Illibata Dei virgo nutrix, he includes an acrostic of his name, where it is spelled IOSQVIN Des PREZ.[9] Documents from Condé, where he lived for the last years of his life, refer to him as "Maistre Josse Desprez". These include a letter written by the chapter of Notre-Dame of Condé to Margaret of Austria where he is named as 'Josquin Desprez'.[10] Scholarly opinion differs on whether his surname should be written as one word (Desprez) or two (des Prez), with publications from continental Europe preferring the former and English publications the latter.[11] Modern scholarship typically refers to him as 'Josquin' rather than 'des Prez/Desprez'.[12]


Early life[edit]

Birth and background[edit]

Hainault and the surrounding area in the time of Josquin[13]

Little is known about Josquin's early years.[14] The specifics of his biography are speculative, and have been debated for centuries. The musicologist William Elders noted that "it could be called a twist of fate that neither the year, nor the place of birth of the greatest composer of the Renaissance is known".[3] A now-outdated theory is that he was born in around 1440, a theory based on a mistaken association with Jushinus de Kessalia, recorded in documents as "Judocus de Picardia".[11] A reevaluation of his later career, name and family background has discredited this claim.[14] Modern scholarship leans towards a birthdate around 1450, and at the latest 1455.[14] This would make him nearly the same age as his composer colleagues, Loyset Compère and Heinrich Isaac, and slightly older than Jacob Obrecht.[14]

His father was a policeman in the castellany of Ath. He was accused of numerous offenses, including a series of complaints of undue force, and disappears from records after 1448.[n 1] Nothing is known of Josquin's mother; she is absent from surviving wills and other documents, suggesting that she was either not considered the composer's legitimate mother, or that she died soon after, or during, Josquin's birth. Around 1466, perhaps on the death of his father, Josquin was named by his uncle and aunt, Gille Lebloitte dit des Prez and Jacque Banestonne, as their heir.[16][17]

Josquin was born in the French-speaking area of Flanders, in modern-day northeastern France or Belgium.[18][n 2] Despite his close association with Condé in his later years, later in his life Josquin indicated that he was not born there.[11][14] The only firm evidence for his birthplace is a later legal document in which Josquin described being born beyond Noir Eauwe, literally meaning the "Black Water".[11][14] The exact meaning of this has puzzled scholars, and various theories have been developed on which body of water is being referred to.[14] The L'Eau Noire river in the Ardennes has been proposed, and there is known to have been a village named 'Prez' there,[14] though the musicologist David Fallows contends that the complications surrounding Josquin's name make a surname connection irrelevant, and that the river is too small and too far from Condé to be a candidate.[24] Fallows proposes a birthplace near the converging Escaut and Haine rivers at Condé, preferring the latter since it was known for transporting coal, which might have made the river fit the "Black Water" description.[25][n 3] Other theories include a birth near Saint-Quentin, Aisne, due to his early association with the Collegiate Church of Saint-Quentin, or in the small village of Beaurevoir, which is near the Escaut, a river that is possibly referred to by an acrostic in his later motet Illibata Dei virgo nutrix.[14]


There are no surviving documents covering Josquin's education or upbringing.[27] Fallows associates him with 'Goseequin de Condent', an altar boy at the collegiate church of Saint-Géry, Cambrai until mid-1466.[28] Other scholars such as Gustave Reese relay a 17th-century account from Cardinal Richelieu's friend Claude Hémeré, contending that Josquin became a choirboy with his friend Jean Mouton at the Collegiate Church of Saint-Quentin;[27] doubt has been cast of the reliability of this account.[14] The collegiate chapel there was a center of music for the entire area, and an important center of royal patronage. All records from Saint-Quentin were destroyed in 1669, and it is possible that Josquin acquired his later connections with the French royal chapel through an early association with Saint-Quentin.[14] He may have studied under Johannes Ockeghem, a leading composer whom he greatly admired throughout his life. This is claimed by later writers such as Gioseffo Zarlino and Lodovico Zacconi, and suggested by Josquin writing a lamentation on the death of Ockeghem, Nymphes des bois.[14] There is no concrete evidence for this tutorship, and later commentators may only have meant that Josquin "learnt from the older composer's example".[14]

Josquin could have been associated with Cambrai Cathedral, as there is a 'des Prez' among the cathedral's musicians listed in Omnium bonorum plena, a motet by Compère.[29] Composed before 1474, the motet names many important musicians of the time, including Antoine Busnois, Johannes Tinctoris, Johannes Regis, Ockeghem and Guillaume Du Fay.[14] Though the motet may instead refer to the singer Pasquier Desprez, Josquin is a more likely candidate, raising questions about his possible association with Cambrai and the musicians there.[14][30][n 4] Regardless of a direct connection with Du Fay, Josquin was certainly influenced by the elder composer's music,[31] though the musicologist Alejandro Planchart suggests that the impact was not particularly large.[32] Ockeghem's influence on Josquin was substantial; he musically quoted Ockeghem several times, most directly in his double motet Alma Redemptoris mater/Ave regina caelorum, which shares an opening line with Ockeghem's motet Alma Redemptoris mater.[14][33][n 5]

Early career[edit]

René of Anjou, Josquin's first known employer

The first firm record of Josquin's employment is dated 19 April 1477 when he was a singer in the chapel of René of Anjou, in Aix-en-Provence.[35] Other evidence may place him in Aix as early as 1475.[36] Josquin remained there until at least 1478, after which his name disappears from historical records for five years.[35] It is possible that he remained in René's service, joining René's other singers to serve Louis XI, who sent them to the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris.[35] Josquin's connection to Louis XI could be furthered by his early motet Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo, which may be a musical tribute for the king, since it ends with the psalm verse "In te Domine speravi, non confundar in aeternum", which is the same line that Louis commissioned Jean Bourdichon to write on 50 scrolls in the Château de Plessis-lez-Tours.[35] A less accepted theory for Josquin's activities between 1478 and 1483 is that he had already entered the household of his future employer Ascanio Sforza in 1480.[37] In that case, Josquin would have been with Ascanio in Ferrara, and possibly wrote his Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae at this time for Ercole d'Este.[37] Around this period the Casanatense chansonnier was collected in Ferrara,[38] which includes six chansons by Josquin, Adieu mes amours, En l'ombre d'ung buissonet, Et trop penser, Ile fantazies de Joskin, Que vous ma dame and Une mousque de Biscaye.[35] Adieu mes amours and Que vous ma dame are thought to have been particularly popular, given their wide dissemination in later sources.[39]

By February 1483 Josquin's name reappears in historical documents, first when he returned to Condé to claim his inheritance from his aunt and uncle, who may have been killed when the army of Louis XI besieged the town in May 1478 and had the population locked and burned in a church.[35][40] In the same document, the collegiate church of Condé is reported to have given 'wine of honor' (vin d'honneur) to Josquin, because "as a musician who had already served two kings, he was now a distinguished visitor to the little town".[40] Josquin had hired at least 15 procurators to sort out his inheritance; this and other contextual evidence strongly suggests that by then he was very wealthy.[41] This would explain oddities later in his life, including his ability to travel so often, his demand for a high salary, and freedom from composing greatly demanded mass cycles like his contemporaries Isaac and Ludwig Senfl.[41]

Italy and travels[edit]

Milan and elsewhere[edit]

Tentative outline of Josquin's life from 1483 to 1489[42]
Date Location Confidence
March 1483 Condé Certain
August 1483 Departure from Paris Possible
March 1484 Rome Possible
15 May 1484[37] Milan Certain
June–August 1484 Milan (with Ascanio) Certain
Up to July 1484 Rome (with Ascanio) Certain
July 1485 Plans to leave (with Ascanio) Certain
1485 – ? Hungary Possible
January – February 1489 Milan Certain
Early May 1489 Milan Probable
June 1489 Rome (in Sistine Chapel Choir) Certain

A surviving record indicates that Josquin was in Milan by 15 May 1484, perhaps just after his 1483 trip to Condé.[37] In March 1484 he possibly had a brief stay in Rome.[42] Fallows speculates that Josquin left Condé for Italy so quickly because his new inheritance gave him more freedom and allowed him to avoid serving a king who had possibly had his aunt and uncle killed.[40] By then, Milan had become a musical center, with the sacred music of Milan Cathedral having a reputation for excellence.[43] Josquin was employed by the House of Sforza, and on 20 June 1484 came into the service of cardinal Ascanio Sforza.[37] Josquin may have received this prestigious and long-term position due to his renown as a composer, a strong recommendation from a patron of fellow musician, or the use of his wealth.[44] While working for Ascanio, on 19 August Josquin requested a previously rejected dispensation to be rector at the parish church Saint Aubin without having been ordained a priest, which was approved.[45] Joshua Rifkin has established the well-known Ave Maria ... Virgo serena motet to be from this time, c. 1485.[35][46][n 6]

Josquin went to Rome with Ascanio in July 1484 for a year, and may have gone to Paris for a litigation suit involving the benefice in Saint Aubin during the later 1480s.[37] Around this time the poet Serafino dell'Aquila wrote his sonnet to Josquin, "Ad Jusquino suo compagno musico d’Ascanio" ("To Josquin, his fellow musician of Ascanio"), which asks him "not to be discouraged if his 'genius so sublime' seemed poorly remunerated".[37][48] It is also possible that between 1485 and 1489 Josquin served under Matthias Corvinus in the Kingdom of Hungary,[49] based on an account by the cardinal Girolamo Aleandro in 1539, who recalled the archbishop of Esztergom Pal Varday [hu] stating that the court of Matthias included "excellent painters and musicians, among them even Josquin himself".[50][51] Some scholars suggest Aleandro was repeating a false rumor,[37] or that Varday was mistaken and confused Josquin des Prez for the composers Josquin Dor or Johannes de Stokem.[52] Fallows contends that it is unlikely that Varday, who was well-educated and a musician, would have made such a mistake, but notes that it is theoretically possible.[53] The court of Matthias was known to have a high standard of music and employed numerous musicians, many of whom were from Italy.[37] Though Fallows asserts that Josquin's presence in Hungary is likely,[54] the evidence is solely circumstantial, and no original documents survive to confirm the claim.[37] Josquin was in Milan again in January 1489, probably until early May, during which time he met the theorist and composer Franchinus Gaffurius.[55]


Josquin's presumed signature (JOSQUINJ) on Sistine Chapel's choir gallery wall

From June 1489 until at least April 1494, Josquin was a member of the papal choir in Rome, first under Pope Innocent VIII and later under the Borgia pope Alexander VI.[56][n 7] Josquin may have arrived there due to an exchange of singers between Ludovico Sforza and Pope Innocent, where the latter sent Gaspar van Weerbeke to Milan, presumably in return for Josquin.[56] Josquin's arrival brought much-needed prestige to the choir, as the composers Gaspar and Stokem had left recently and the only other choristers known to be composers were Marbrianus de Orto and Bertrandus Vaqueras.[58] Two months after his arrival, Josquin laid claim to the first of various benefices on 18 August.[59] Holding three unrelated benefices at once, without having residency there or needing to speak that area's language, was a special privilege that Josquin's tenure and position offered;[60] many of his choir colleagues had also made use of such privileges.[56] His claims included a canonry at the Notre-Dame de Paris; Saint Omer, Cambrai; a parish in the gift of Saint-Ghislain Abbey; the Basse-Yttre parish church; two parishes near Frasnes, Hainaut; and Saint-Géry, Cambrai.[56] Surviving papal letters indicate that his claim was approved for a few of these, but he does not appear to have taken up any of the canonries.[60] The Sistine Chapel's monthly payment records give the most consistent and substantial extant record of Josquin's career at any period, but all papal chapel records from April 1494 to November 1500 are lost, making it unknown when he left Rome.[57]

After restorations from 1997 to 1998, the name JOSQUINJ was found as a graffito on the wall of the Sistine Chapel's cantoria (choir gallery).[56][61] This is one of almost four hundred names inscribed in the chapel, around a hundred of which can be identified with singers of the papal choir.[62] They date from the 15th to 18th centuries, but the JOSQUINJ signature aligns with conventions from the former.[63] There is some evidence suggesting the name refers to Josquin des Prez; it may be interpreted as either 'Josquin' or 'Josquinus', depending on whether the curved line on the far right is read as the abbreviation for 'us'.[62] Either way, other choristers named Josquin tended to sign their name in full, whereas Josquin des Prez is known to have done so mononymously on some occasions.[62] A relatively early account from Andrea Adami da Bolsena in his 1711 Osservazioni per ben regolare il coro dei cantori della Cappella Pontificia notes that in his time Josquin's name was visibly 'sculpted' in the Sistine Chapel's choir room.[63] The musicologist Richard Sherr notes that "while this is not a true autograph signature, the possibility that Josquin des Prez actually produced it during his stay in the papal chapel is very high",[63] and Fallows notes that "it hardly counts as an autograph, but it may be the closest we can get."[64]


Josquin probably served under Louis XII, who had captured the Sforzas, his previous employers

Josquin's activities between 1494 and 1503 are unclear,[65] but at some point during this period he was ordained as a priest.[66] Recent documents have shed some light, but many years remain uncertain and scholars have proposed competing theories.[67] In August 1494 he went to Cambrai, as demonstrated by a 'wine of honor' (vin d'honneur) record, and it is possible that he returned to Rome soon after.[68] From then to 1498 there is no firm evidence for Josquin's activities or employment; Fallows has suggested he stayed in Cambrai for these four years.[67][69] Fallows cites Johannes Manlius's 1562 book Locorum communium collectanea, which associates Josquin with Cambrai's musical establishment.[69] Scholars long assumed that Manlius confused Cambrai with somewhere else, but this has now been reconsidered in light of the new evidence indicating Josquin's possible youthful connections there and later 'wine of honor'.[69] Manlius cites the reformer Philip Melanchthon as the source for many of his stories, strengthening the authenticity of his Josquin anecdotes, as Melanchthon was close to musical figures of his time, including the music publisher Georg Rhau and the composer Adrianus Petit Coclico.[69]

Josquin may have re-entered the service of the Sforza family in Milan around 1498, as suggested by two letters between members of the House of Gonzaga and Ascanio Sforza, which refer to a servant 'Juschino' who delivered the hunting dogs to the Gonzagas.[67][70] Circumstantial evidence makes identifying 'Juschino' as Josquin des Prez possible, but he is not known to be qualified to assist with such a specific task, and it would be unusual to refer to him as a 'servant' instead of a 'musician' or 'singer'.[71] Josquin probably did not stay in Milan long, since his former employers were captured during Louis XII's 1499 invasion.[67] Prior to departing, he most likely wrote two secular compositions, the well-known frottola El Grillo ("The Cricket"), as well as In te Domine speravi ("I have placed my hope in you, Lord"), based on Psalm 31.[67][72] The latter composition may have been a veiled reference to the religious reformer Girolamo Savonarola, who had been burned at the stake in Florence in 1498, and for whom Josquin seems to have had a special reverence; the text was Savonarola's favorite psalm, a meditation on which he left incomplete in prison prior to his execution.[72]

Josquin was probably in France during the early 16th century; documents found 2008 indicate that he visited Troyes twice between 1499 and 1501.[73] In addition, the long doubted account from Hémeré that Josquin had a canonry at Saint-Quentin was confirmed by documentary evidence that he had exchanged it by 30 May 1503.[74] Canonries at Saint-Quentin were almost always gifts from the French king to royal household members, strongly suggesting Josquin had been employed by Louis XII.[74] According to the music theorist Heinrich Glarean in the Dodecachordon of 1547, the motet Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo ("Remember thy promise unto thy servant") was composed as a gentle reminder to the king to keep his promise of a benefice to Josquin.[67] Glarean also claimed that upon receiving the benefice, Josquin wrote a motet on the text Bonitatem fecisti cum servo tuo, Domine ("Lord, thou hast dealt graciously with thy servant") to show his gratitude to the king, either Louis XI or Louis XII.[75][76] Although such a motet survives and is transmitted along with Josquin's Memor esto in many sources, Bonitatem fecisti is now attributed to Carpentras.[75][76] Some of Josquin's other compositions have been tentatively dated to his French period, such as Vive le roy, and In exitu Israel, which resembles the style of other composers of the French court.[77] The five-voice De profundis, a setting of Psalm 130, seems to have been written for a royal funeral, possibly that of Louis XII, Anne of Brittany or Philip I of Castile.[67]


Ercole I d'Este, an important patron of the arts, was Josquin's employer during 1503–1504.

Josquin arrived in Ferrara by 30 May 1503, and the deed he signed that day indicates he did not intend to stay there for long.[78] He had come to the city to serve under Ercole I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, an important arts patron who had been trying for many years to replace the recently deceased composer and choirmaster Johannes Martini.[79][80] Though no extant documents record Josquin as having worked in Ferrara before, his earlier connections with Ercole and the general uncertainty of his career suggests he may have.[81] Ercole is known to have met with Josquin's former employer Louis XII throughout 1499 to 1502, and such meetings may have led to his eventual service for the Duke.[67] Two rare letters survive explaining the circumstances of his arrival, both from courtiers who scouted out musical talent in the service of Ercole.[82] The first of these was from Girolamo da Sestola (nicknamed 'Coglia') to Ercole, explaining that "My lord, I believe that there is neither lord nor king who will now have a better chapel than yours if your lordship sends for Josquin [...] and by having Josquin in our chapel I want to place a crown upon this chapel of ours" (14 August 1502).[67] The second extant letter, from the courtier Gian de Artiganova, criticized Josquin and suggested Heinrich Isaac instead:[83]

"To me [Isaac] seems well suited to serve your lordship, more so than Josquin, because he is more good-natured and companionable, and will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, 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 — but your lordship will decide."

— Gian de Artiganova to Ercole I d'Este, 2 September 1502[67]

Around three months later Josquin was chosen over Isaac; his salary of 200 ducats was the highest ever earned by a ducal chapel member.[84] The well-known letter from Artiganova is a unique source for Josquin's personality, which the musicologist Patrick Macey interprets as meaning Josquin was "difficult colleague and that he took an independent attitude towards producing music for his patrons".[67] Edward Lowinsky connected his purportedly 'difficult' behavior with musical talent, and used the letter as evidence that Josquin's contemporaries recognized his 'genius'.[85][86] Musicologist Rob Wegman questions whether meaningful conclusions can be drawn from such an anecdote.[87] In a later publication, Wegman notes the largely unprecedented nature of such a position and warns that "yet of course the letter could equally well be seen to reflect the attitudes and expectations of its recipient, Ercole d'Este".[88]

While in Ferrara, Josquin wrote some of his most famous compositions, including the austere, Savonarola-influenced Miserere mei, Deus,[89] which became one of the most widely distributed motets of the 16th century.[90] Also probably from this period was the virtuoso motet Virgo salutiferi, set to a poem by Ercole Strozzi, and O virgo prudentissima on a poem by Poliziano.[91] Due to its stylistic resemblance to Miserere and Virgo salutiferi, the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae is now also attributed to this time; it was previously thought to have been written in the early 1480s.[92][93][n 8] Josquin did not stay in Ferrara long. An outbreak of the plague in the summer of 1503 prompted the evacuation of the Duke and his family, as well as two-thirds of the citizens, and Josquin left by April 1504, possibly also to escape the plague. His replacement, Obrecht, died of the plague in mid-1505.[91]


A 1545 map of Condé-sur-l'Escaut by Jacob van Deventer
A 1545 map of Condé-sur-l'Escaut by Jacob van Deventer

Josquin probably moved from Ferrara to his home region of Condé-sur-l'Escaut, and became provost of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame on 3 May 1504; he may have obtained the post from Philip I's sponsorship.[96] His role gave him political responsibility, and put him in charge of a substantial workforce, including a dean, treasurer, 25 canons, 18 chaplains, 16 vicars, 6 choir-boys and other priests.[97] This was an appealing place for his old age: it was near his birthplace, had a renowned choir and was the leading musical establishment in Hainaut, besides St. Vincent at Soignies and Cambrai Cathedral.[96] Very few records of his activity survive from this time; he bought a house in September 1504, and sold it (or possibly a different house) in November 1508.[98][n 9] The Josquin mentioned may be the "Joskin" who travelled to present chansons to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Brussels or Mechelen.[96]

Josquin's final years saw the composition of many of his most admired works, including the masses Missa de Beata Virgine and Missa Pange lingua; the motets Benedicta es, Inviolata, Pater noster–Ave Maria and Praeter rerum seriem; and the chansons Mille regretz, Nimphes, nappés and Plus nulz regretz.[39] The last of these, Plus nulz regretz, is set a poem by Jean Lemaire de Belges to celebrate the future engagement between Charles V and Mary Tudor.[96] Throughout his last years Josquin's music saw European-wide dissemination through publications by the printer Ottaviano Petrucci.[100] Printing technology was in its early stages, but Josquin's compositions were given a prominent place by Petrucci, and reissued numerous times.[96] On his deathbed, Josquin left an endowment for the performance of what may have been his final work, Pater noster, at all general processions in the town when they passed in front of his house, stopping to place a wafer on the marketplace altar to the Holy Virgin.[101] He died on 27 August 1521 and left his possessions to Condé's chapter of Notre Dame,[96] being buried in front of the church's high altar.[102] His tomb was later destroyed, either during the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598) or in 1793 when the church was torn down amid the French Revolution.[96]


Josquin's four-voice motet Domine, ne in furore was written c. 1480.[103] It includes one voice presenting a short motive, which is subsequently imitated by other voices

Following the death of Du Fay in 1474, Josquin and his contemporaries lived in a musical world of frequent stylistic change,[32] in part due to the movement of musicians between different regions of Europe.[104] A line of musicologists credit Josquin with three primary developments: 1) the gradual departure from extensive melismatic lines, and emphasis instead on smaller motifs.[105] These 'motivic cells' were short, easily and recognizable melodic fragments which passed from voice to voice in a contrapuntal texture, giving it an inner unity.[106] 2) The prominent use of imitative polyphony, equally between voices, which "combines a rational and homogeneous integration of the musical space with a self-renewing rhythmic impetus".[105] Lastly, 3) a focus on the text, with the music serving to emphasize its meaning—i. e. an early form of word painting.[105] The musicologist Jeremy Noble concludes that these three innovations demonstrate the transition from the earlier music of Du Fay and Ockeghem, to Josquin's successors Adrian Willaert and Jacques Arcadelt, and eventually to the late Renaissance composers Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlande de Lassus.[105]

A professional singer throughout his life, Josquin's music is almost exclusively vocal.[107] He wrote compositions in primarily three genres: the mass, motet, and chanson (with French-text).[107] In his 50-year career, Josquin's oeuvre numbers more works than any other composer of his period, besides perhaps Isaac and Obrecht.[108] Establishing a chronology of his compositions is immensely difficult; the sources in which they were published scarcely offer evidence, and both historical and contextual connections are meager.[109] Few manuscripts of Josquin's music date from before the 16th century, due to, according to Noble, "time, war and enthusiasm (both religious and anti-religious)".[108] Thus, identifying earlier works is particularly difficult, while later works only occasionally offer any more certainty.[108] The musicologist Richard Taruskin asserts that modern scholarship is "still nowhere near a wholly reliable chronology and unlikely ever to reach it", and suggests that the current tentative models "tell us more about ourselves, and the way in which we come to know what we know, than they do about Josquin".[110]


Manuscript showing the opening Kyrie of the Missa de Beata Virgine, a late work. Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Capp. Sist. 45, ff. 1v-2r.

The mass is the central rite of the Catholic Church and throughout the 14th century polyphonic settings of the ordinary of the mass—the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei—increased in popularity. Over the course of the 15th century, composers began to treat the mass as a central genre in Western classical music in accordance with the rise in demand.[111] By Josquin's time, masses had become generally standardized into a substantial, polyphonic five-movement work which posed a significant challenge to the composer who wished to satisfy both liturgical and musical demands.[111] He and his contemporaries were faced with a daunting legacy to follow, as previous examples in the genre by composers such as Du Fay and Ockeghem were widely admired and emulated.[111] These pressures stimulated an intense flowering of the genre, lead by Josquin and Obrecht in the late 15th century.[112][111] Compared to his motets, Josquin's masses are generally less progressive—though he is credited with numerous innovations in the genre.[111] His less-radical approach may be explained by most of his masses being earlier works, or the structural and textual limitations that define the genre.[111] Almost all of Josquin's masses are for four voices.[113]

As per the Josquin Companion, the composer's masses can be loosely categorized into the following styles:[114]

  • Canonic masses, which contains one or more voices derived from another via strict imitation
  • Cantus-firmus mass, in which a pre-existing tune appears in one voice of the texture, with the other voices being more or less freely composed
  • Paraphrase mass, based on a popular monophonic song which is used freely in all voices, and in many variations[115]
  • Parody mass, based on a polyphonic song, which appears in whole or in part, with material from all voices in use, not just the tune[116]
  • Solmization mass, named soggetto cavato by Zarlino, in which the base tune is drawn from the syllables of a name or phrase[117]

Josquin began his career at a time when composers started to find strict cantus-firmus masses limiting.[118] He was a pioneer writing paraphrase and parody masses, neither of which were well established before the 16th century.[118] Many of his works combine the cantus-firmus style with those of these two, making strict categorization sometimes problematic.[118] Reflecting on Josquin's masses, the musicologist Jeremy Noble notes that "In general his instinct, at least in his mature works, seems to be to extract as much variety as possible from his given musical material, sacred or secular, by any appropriate means."[118]

Canonic masses[edit]

The opening of Josquin's Missa sine nomine play 

Masses which consistently employ canonic imitation were written by Josquin's predecessors and contemporaries. The canonic voices in most of these masses are derived from pre-existing melodies such as the "L'homme armé" song (Faugues, Compère and Forestier), or chant (Fevin and La Rue's Missae de feria).[119] Josquin's two canonic masses are not based on any existing tunes, and therefore stand quite apart from the mainstream. They are closer to the Missa prolationum written by Ockeghem, and Missa ad Fugam by de Orto, as both use original melodies in all the voices.[119]

Although Josquin's two canonic masses were published in Petrucci's third book of Josquin masses in 1514, The Missa ad fugam is clearly the earlier of the two. It has a head-motif consisting of the entirety of the first Kyrie which is repeated in the beginning of all five movements.[120] The canon is also restricted to the highest voice, and the pitch interval between the voices is fixed while the temporal interval varies between only two values; the two free voices generally do not participate in the imitation.[121] The precise relationship of Josquin's mass to de Orto's is uncertain, as is Josquin's authorship of the mass.[122][123] No questions of authenticity cloud the Missa sine nomine, a product of the Josquin's final years in Condé.[124] In stark contrast to the inflexibility of the canonic scheme in the Missa Ad Fugam, the temporal and pitch interval of the canon, along with the voices that participate in it, are varied throughout the mass.[124] The free voices are much more fully integrated into the texture, and frequently participate in imitation with the canonic voices, sometimes preemptively.[125]

Cantus-firmus masses[edit]

Prior to Josquin's mature period, the most common technique for writing masses was the cantus-firmus, a technique which had been in use already for most of the 15th century. It was the technique that Josquin used earliest in his career, with the Missa L'ami Baudichon, considered one of his earliest masses.[118] This mass is based on a secular tune similar to "Three Blind Mice". That basing a mass on such a source was an accepted procedure is evident from the existence of the mass in Sistine Chapel part-books copied during the papacy of Julius II (1503–1513).[126]

Josquin's most famous cantus-firmus masses are the two based on the "L'homme armé" (lit.'the armed man'), a popular tune for mass composition throughout entire Renaissance.[127] Though both are relatively mature compositions, they are starkly contrasted.[118] The earlier of the two, Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales, is a technical tour-de-force on the tune, containing numerous mensuration canons and contrapuntal display.[128] Throughout the work, the melody is presented on each note of the natural hexachord: C, D, E, F, G and A.[118] The second, Missa L'homme armé sexti toni, is a "fantasia on the theme of the armed man."[129] While based on a cantus-firmus, it is also a paraphrase mass, for fragments of the tune appear in all voices; throughout the work the melody appears in a wide variety of tempos and rhythms.[118] Technically it is almost restrained, compared to the other L'homme armé mass, until the closing Agnus Dei, which contains a complex canonic structure including a rare retrograde canon, around which other voices are woven.[130]

Paraphrase masses[edit]

Paraphrase masses by Josquin[131]

Early works

Later works

The paraphrase mass differed from the cantus-firmus technique in that the source material, though still monophonic, could be (by Josquin's time) highly embellished, often with ornaments.[116] As in the cantus-firmus technique, the source tune may appear in many voices of the mass.[132] Several of Josquin's masses feature the paraphrase technique, such as the somewhat early Missa Gaudeamus, which also includes cantus-firmus and canonic elements.[118] The Missa Ave maris stella, also probably a relatively early work, paraphrases the Marian antiphon of the same name; it is one of his shortest masses.[133] The late Missa de Beata Virgine paraphrases plainchants in praise of the Virgin Mary. As a Lady Mass, it is a votive mass for Saturday performance, and was his most popular mass in the 16th century.[134][135]

The best known of Josquin's paraphrase masses, and one of the most famous mass settings of the entire Renaissance, was the Missa Pange lingua, based on a hymn by Thomas Aquinas for the Vespers of Corpus Christi. It was probably the last mass that Josquin composed.[136] This mass is an extended fantasia on the tune, using the melody in all voices and in all parts of the mass, in elaborate and ever-changing polyphony. One of the high points of the mass is the et incarnatus est section of the Credo, where the texture becomes homophonic, and the tune appears in the topmost voice. Here the portion which would normally set—"Sing, O my tongue, of the mystery of the divine body"—is instead given the words "And he became incarnate by the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary, and was made man."[137] Noble comments that "The vigour of the earlier masses can still be felt in the rhythms and the strong drive to cadences, perhaps more so than in the Missa de Beata Virgine, but essentially the two contrasting strains of Josquin’s music—fantasy and intellectual control—are so blended and balanced in these two works that one can see in them the beginnings of a new style: one which reconciles the conflicting aims of the great 15th-century composers in a new synthesis that was in essence to remain valid for the whole of the 16th century."[118]

Parody masses[edit]

Parody masses by Josquin[138]

Du Fay was one of the first to write masses based on secular songs (a parody mass), and his Missa Se la face ay pale, dates to the decade of Josquin's birth.[139] By the turn of the century, when Josquin was roughly 50, composers have begun to move away from quoting only a single voice line and widened their reference to all voices in the piece.[139] This development was part of the transition from the medieval cantus-firmus mass, where the voice bearing the preexisting melody stood somewhat aloof from the others, to the Renaissance parody masses, where all the voices formed an integrated texture.[140] In such masses, the source material was not a single line, but motifs and points of imitation from all voices within a polyphonic work.[116] By the time Josquin died, these parody masses had become well established and Josquin's works demonstrate the variety of methods in musical borrowing during this transition period.[139]

Six works are generally attributed to Josquin which borrow from polyphonic pieces,[138] two of which also include canonic features.[118] One of these—the Missa Di dadi, which includes a canon in the "Benedictus"—is based on a chanson by Robert Morton and has the rhythmic augmentation of the borrowed tenor part indicated by dice faces, which are printed next to the staff.[118][141] Canon can also be found in the "Osanna" of the Missa Faisant regretz which is based on Walter Frye's Tout a par moy.[118] The Missa Fortuna desperata is based on the popular three-voice Italian song Fortuna desperata.[118][n 10] In this mass, Josquin used each of the Italian song's voices as cantus firmi, varying throughout the work.[118] A similar variation in the source material's voices is used in the Missa Malheur me bat, based on a chanson variously attributed to Martini or Abertijne Malcourt.[118] The dating of Missa Malheur me bat remains particularly controversial, with some scholars positing it as an early composition, and others a later work.[143] The Missa Mater Patris, based on a three-voice motet by Antoine Brumel, is probably the earliest true parody mass by any composer, as it no longer contains any hint of a cantus-firmus.[144] Lastly is the Missa D'ung aultre amer, based on a popular chanson of the same name by Ockeghem, which is one of Josquin's shortest mass.[145][n 11]

Solmization mass[edit]

A solmization masses is a polyphonic mass which uses notes drawn from a word or phrase.[117] The style is first described by Zarlino in 1558, who called it soggetto cavato, from soggetto cavato dalle parole, meaning "carved out of the words".[117] The earliest known mass by any composer using solmization syllables is the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, which Josquin wrote for Ercole I.[93][134] It is based on cantus-firmus of musical syllables of the Duke's name, 'Ercole, Duke of Ferrara', which in Latin is 'Hercules Dux Ferrarie'.[146][110] Taking the solmization syllables with the same vowels gives: Re–Ut–Re–Ut–Re–Fa–Mi–Re, which is D–C–D–C–D–F–E–D in modern nomenclature.[118][147] The Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae remains the best known work to employ this device and was published by Petrucci in 1505, relatively soon after its composition.[110][148] Taruskin notes that the use of Ercole's name is Josquin's method of memorialization for his patron, akin to an artist creating a portrait painting.[110]

Josquin's other mass to prominently use this technique is the Missa La sol fa re mi, based on the musical syllables contained in 'laisse faire moy' ("let me take care of it").[100] Essentially the entire mass's content is related to this phrase, and the piece is thus something of an ostinato.[118] The traditional story, as told by Glarean in 1547, was that an unknown aristocrat used to order suitors away with this phrase, and Josquin immediately wrote an "exceedingly elegant" mass on it as a jab at him.[147] Scholars have proposed different origins for the piece; Lowinsky has connected it to the court of Ascanio Sforza, while the art historian Dawson Kiang connected it to the Turkish prince Cem Sultan's promise to the pope to overthrow his brother Bayezid II.[100]


The opening passage from Josquin's motet Ave Maria ... Virgo serena, which demonstrates imitative counterpoint between the four voices

Josquin's motets are his most celebrated and influential works.[107] Their style varies considerably, but can generally be divided into three groups: 1) almost strictly homophonic settings with block chords and syllabic text declamation; 2) highly ornate—and often imitative—contrapuntal fantasias which in which the text is overshadowed by music, and 3) psalm settings which combined these extremes with the addition of rhetorical figures and text-painting that foreshadowed the later development of the madrigal.[107][149] He wrote most of them for four voices, an ensemble size which had become the compositional norm by the mid-15th century, and descended from the four part writing of Guillaume de Machaut and John Dunstaple in the late Middle Ages.[150] Though Josquin was not the first to write motets for five and six voices, he was also a considerable innovator in those genres.[151]

Many of the motets use some kind of compositional constraint on the process,[152] though others are freely composed.[153] Some use a cantus-firmus as a unifying device; some are canonic; others use a motto which repeats throughout; some use several of these methods. The motets which use canon can be roughly divided into two groups: those in which the canon is plainly designed to be heard and appreciated as such, and another group in which a canon is present, but not exposed, and thus difficult to hear.[154] Josquin frequently used imitation in writing his motets, with sections akin to fugal expositions occurring on successive lines of the text he was setting.[153] This is prominent in his well-known motet Ave Maria ... Virgo serena, an early work where each voice enters by restating the line sung before them.[153][n 6] Other early works such as a Alma Redemptoris mater/Ave regina caelorum show prominent imitation,[153] as do later ones such as his setting of Dominus regnavit (Psalm 93), for four voices.[155] The technique would remain favored throughout Josquin's career.[153]

In writing polyphonic settings of psalms, Josquin was a pioneer, and psalm settings form a large proportion of the motets of his later years.[153] Few composers prior to him had written polyphonic psalm settings.[156] Some of Josquin's settings include the famous Miserere (Psalm 51); Memor esto verbi tui, based on Psalm 119; and two settings of De profundis (Psalm 130), both of which are often considered to be among his most significant accomplishments.[155][157] Josquin wrote several examples of a new type of piece developed by the composers in Milan, the motet-chanson.[158] Though similar to 15th-century works based on the formes fixes mold, they differed in that unlike those completely secular works, they contained a chant-derived Latin cantus-firmus in the lowest of the three voices.[158] The other voices sang a secular French text, which had either a symbolic relationship to the sacred Latin text, or commented on it.[158] Josquin's three known motet-chansons are Que vous madame/In pace, A la mort/Monstra te esse matrem, and Fortune destrange plummaige/Pauper sum ego.[158]

Secular music[edit]

In the domain of secular music, Josquin left numerous French chansons, for three to six voices, though some were probably intended for instrumental performance as well.[159] Inside of his chansons, he often used a cantus-firmus, sometimes a popular song whose origin can no longer be traced, as in Si j'avoye Marion.[160] Other times he used a tune originally associated with a separate text; and still other times he freely composed an entire song, using no apparent external source material. Another technique Josquin used was to take a popular song and write it as a canon with itself, in two inner voices, and write new melodic material above and around it, to a new text: he used this technique in one of his most famous chansons, Faulte d'argent.[161]

Josquin's earliest chansons were probably composed in northern Europe, under the influence of composers such as Ockeghem and Busnois. Unlike them, he never adhered strictly to the conventions of the formes fixes—the rigid and complex repetition patterns of the rondeau, virelai, and ballade—instead he often wrote his early chansons in strict imitation, a feature they shared with many of his sacred works.[134] He was one of the first composers of chansons to make all voices equal parts of the texture; and many of his chansons contain points of imitation, similar to his motets. He also used melodic repetition, especially where the lines of text rhymed, and many of his chansons had both a lighter texture and faster tempo than his motets.[134][161] Some of his chansons were almost certainly designed to be performed with instruments. That Petrucci published many of them without text is strong evidence of this; additionally, some of the pieces (for example, the fanfare-like Vive le roy) contain writing more idiomatic for instruments than voices.[161] Josquin's most famous chansons circulated widely in Europe; some of the better-known include his lament on the death of Ockeghem, Nymphes des bois/Requiem aeternam; Mille regretz, an uncertain attribution to Josquin;[n 12] Nimphes, nappés; and Plus nulz regretz.[39]

In addition to his French chansons, Josquin wrote at least three pieces in the manner of the frottola, a popular Italian song form which he would have encountered during his years in Milan. These songs include Scaramella, El grillo, and In te domine speravi. They are even simpler in texture than his French chansons, being almost uniformly syllabic and homophonic, and they remain among his most frequently performed pieces.[134][161]


(First) Early 16th-century painting attributed to Filippo Mazzola, with a man holding the canon by Josquin. It possibly depicts Josquin or Nicolò Burzio [it]
(Second) The Portrait of a Musician by Leonardo da Vinci, mid 1480s, in which Josquin has been proposed as the sitter, though without any certainty

A small woodcut portraying Josquin is the most reproduced image of any Renaissance composer.[162] Printed in Petrus Opmeer's 1611 Opus chronographicum orbis universi, the woodcut is the earliest known depiction of Josquin and presumably based on the oil portrait painting which Opmeer says was kept in the collegiate church of St. Goedele.[163] Church documents discovered in the 1990s have corroborated Opmeer's statement about the painting's existence.[164] It may have been painted during Josquin's lifetime, and was owned by Petrus Jacobi (d. 1568), a cantor and organist at St. Gudula, Brussels.[162][1] Following the will's instructions, the altarpiece was placed next to Jacobi's tomb, but it was destroyed in the late 16th century by Protestant iconoclasts.[1] Whether the woodcut is a realistic likeness of the oil painting remains uncertain;[2] Elders notes that comparisons between contemporaneous woodcuts based on original paintings that do survive often show incompetent realizations, putting the accuracy of the woodcut into question.[165]

The Portrait of a Musician, widely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci,[n 13] depicts a man holding sheet music, which has led many scholars to identify him as a musician.[168] Usually dated to the mid-1480s,[167] numerous candidates have been proposed, including Franchinus Gaffurius and Atalante Migliorotti, though none have achieved wide approval.[169] In 1972, the Belgian musicologist Suzanne Clercx-Lejeune [fr] argued the subject is Josquin;[1] she interpreted the words on the sitter's sheet music as "Cont" (an abbreviation of "Contratenor"), "Cantuz" (Cantus), and "A Z" (an abbreviation of "Altuz"),[170] and identified the music as Josquin's llibata Dei Virgo nutrix.[171] However, numerous factors make this unlikely: the painting does not resemble the Opmeer portrait; the notation is largely illegible;[172][173] and as a priest in his mid-thirties Josquin does not seem like the younger layperson of the portrait.[1] Fallows disagrees, noting that "a lot of new details point to Josquin, who was the right age, in the right place, had already served at least two kings, and was now rich enough to have his portrait painted by the best", but concludes that "we shall probably never know who Leonardo's musician was".[171]

A portrait from the early 16th century kept in the Galleria nazionale di Parma is often related to Josquin. The work is usually attributed to Filippo Mazzola and thought to depict the Italian music theorist Nicolò Burzio [it], though neither the attribution nor sitter are certain.[174] The man in the painting is holding an altered version of Josquin's canon Guillaume se va chauffer.[175] Fallows notes that the man has similar facial features to the portrait printed by Opmeer, but concludes that there is not enough information available to reasonably conclude Josquin is the sitter.[176] Clercx-Lejeune also suggested Josquin was depicted in Jean Perréal's fresco of the Liberal arts in the Le Puy Cathedral, though this has not achieved acceptance from other scholars.[1] An 1811 painting by Charles-Gustave Housez [fr] also depicts Josquin.[177] Though it was created long after the composer's death, Clercx-Lejeune has contended that it is an older portrait which Housez restored and modified.[178]



Imaginary Josquin portrait by Housez [fr], 1881[177]

Elders described Josquin as "the first composer in the history of Western music not to have been forgotten after his death"[179] and "profoundly influential on 16th century [Western] music",[180] and Fallows wroted that his influence on that century is comparable to that of Beethoven on the 19th and Igor Stravinsky on the 20th century.[181] Comparisons with Beethoven are particularly common, though Taruskin cautions that "Drawing parallels between them is easy; doing so has become traditional in music historiography. Unease with this tradition has occasionally been expressed by those who see in it a danger to an unprejudiced view of Josquin and his time [...] To think of Josquin merely as a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century Beethoven would be like placing him behind the nearer figure and thereby obscuring him from view."[182] His popularity led to imitation by fellow composers, and some publishers (especially in Germany) would misattribute works to him after his death to meet the demand for new Josquin compositions.[100][183] This inspired a well-known remark that "now that Josquin is dead, he is producing more compositions than when he was still alive".[184][n 14] Fallows asserts that the issue was more complex than publishers attempting to increase their profits: similar names of composers and compositions caused genuine confusion, as did works which quoted Josquin, or student works which imitated his style.[181] Josquin's pupils may have included Jean Lhéritier and Nicolas Gombert; Coclico claimed to be his student, though his statements are notoriously unreliable.[100]

Numerous composers wrote laments after his death, three of which were published by Tielman Susato in a 1545 edition of Josquin's music.[100][n 15] These included works by Benedictus Appenzeller, Gombert, Jacquet of Mantua and Jheronimus Vinders, as well as the anonymous Absolve, quaesumus, while Jean Richafort's requiem musically quoted him.[100] Josquin's compositions traveled widely after his death, more so than those of Du Fay, Ockeghem and Obrecht combined.[188] Surviving copies of his motets and masses in Spanish cathedrals date from the mid-16th century, and the Sistine Chapel is known to have performed his works regularly throughout the later 16th century and into the 17th.[100] Instrumental arrangements of his works were also published often from the 1530s to the 1590s.[100] Described by Taruskin as the "master architect" of the High Renaissance music,[189] Josquin's compositions were parodied or quoted throughout Europe by almost every major composer of the later Renaissance, including Arcadelt, Brumel, Bartolomé de Escobedo, Antoine de Févin, Robert de Févin, George de La Hèle, Lupus Hellinck, Pierre Hesdin [ca], Lassus, Jacquet, Claudio Merulo, Philippe de Monte, Pierre Moulu, Philippe Rogier, Palestrina, Cipriano de Rore, Nicola Vicentino and Willaert.[100][190]


Commendation, decline and reconsideration[edit]

Agnus Dei II, from Josquin's Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales, as reprinted in the Dodecachordon of Heinrich Glarean

There is little extant information on Josquin's reputation during his lifetime.[100] His composition of masses was commended by Paolo Cortese [it], while the poet Jean Molinet and the music theorists Gaffurius and Pietro Aron referenced his works in their writings.[100] Josquin's popularity during his lifetime is also suggested by publications: Petrucci's Misse Josquin of 1502 was the first single-composer mass anthology, and Josquin was the only composer whose masses merited a second and a third volume.[65][100] Fallows asserts that Josquin gained European renown between 1494 and 1503, since both the Petrucci publications and references by Gaffurius and Molinet all occurred during this time.[65] After Josquin's death, humanists such as Cosimo Bartoli, Baldassare Castiglione and François Rabelais spoke of him highly, with Bartoli describing him as Michelangelo's equal in music.[100] Josquin was championed by the later theorists Heinrich Glarean and Gioseffo Zarlino,[191] while the theologian Martin Luther declared "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."[192]

Upon emergence of Baroque music in the 17th century, Josquin's dominance began to lessen.[100] He was overshadowed by Palestrina, who dominated the pre-common practice period musical narrative, and whose compositions were considered the summit of polyphonic refinement.[193] Until the 20th century, discussion of Josquin's music was mainly limited to select music scholars, such as the theorists Angelo Berardi in the 1680s–1690s, and Johann Gottfried Walther in 1732.[100] The late 18th century saw a new interest in Netherlandish music: studies from Charles Burney, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Raphael Georg Kiesewetter [de] and François-Joseph Fétis gave Josquin a prominent position among the tradition's exponents.[100][194] The music historian August Wilhelm Ambros described Josquin in the 1860s as "one of the towering figures of Western music history, not merely a forerunner of Palestrina but his equal",[100] and his research established the foundation for modern Josquin scholarship.[195] In the early 20th century, leading musicologists such as Alfred Einstein and Carl Dahlhaus largely dismissed Josquin.[196] Various publications began to raise Josquin's status, beginning with a new edition of his complete works by Albert Smijers (1920s) and high evaluation by Friedrich Blume in the Das Chorwerk [de] series.[100] With the early music revival, events in the 1960s raised Josquin's status: the first major study on Josquin by Helmuth Osthoff (Vol 1 1962/Vol 2 1965), an influential article by Lowinsky (1964),[197] and debates between the musicologist Joseph Kerman and Lowinsky (1965).[196] This culminated in the 1971 International Josquin Festival-Conference, which firmly established Josquin in the center of Renaissance music, later cemented by Lowinsky's 1976 monograph.[100][196] The New Josquin Edition began publication in 1987.[100]

Skepticism and revision[edit]

External video
Ave Maria ... Virgo serena
video icon Performance by VOCES8
video icon Performance by Stile Antico

Reflecting on the sentiment that "Josquin was thus by all accounts the greatest composer of his generation, and the most important, innovative, and influential composer of the late 15th and early 16th centuries", Sherr notes that "As recently as the 1990s, no one would have disagreed with that statement. However, in the early 21st century, things are not so certain".[18] Josquin's 2001 article in Grove Music Online lists less than 200 works attributed to him,[113] which is down from what was once more than 370 attributions.[198] These revisions in Josquin's oeuvre have compromised some earlier scholarship which analyzed Josquin's style with works now not considered his.[199] Immense revision has also occurred in Josquin's biography, with entire portions of it being hugely rewritten due to Josquin long being confused with people of his time with similar names.[200][n 16] Substantial controversy has arisen concerning the extent of Josquin's influence; there is no doubt as to his importance in Western music, but some scholars have contended that the extent of his reevaluation has unrealistically apotheosized him over his contemporaries.[199][201][202] Wegman asserts that Obrecht was more highly regarded in Josquin's time, to which Noble has noted that Josquin's prestigious positions, publications and employers "scarcely looks like the career of an unregarded composer".[199] Reflecting on the dispute, Sherr has concluded that Josquin's reputation is somewhat lessened, but on the basis of Josquin's most admired and firmly attributed works "he remains one of the towering figures in the history of music".[18][203]

Since the 1950s Josquin's music has become central to the repertoire of many early music ensembles, and been increasingly featured in recordings, with those by the Hilliard Ensemble, Orlando Consort and A Sei Voci recommended by critics in the 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die (2017) survey .[204][n 17] The Tallis Scholars in particular have recorded all of Josquin's masses, and won the Gramophone "record of the year" in 1987 for their recording of Missa Pange lingua, making them the only early music group to do so.[204][205] Josquin's presence in 21st scholarship remains strong; he was the subject of David Fallows's major monograph (2009), which is currently the standard biography for the composer, and shared the distinction with Machaut of being the only pre-Baroque composer to have an entire chapter in Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music (2005).[182][206] The 500th anniversary of Josquin's death in 2021 was widely celebrated and covered in the media.[207][208]



  1. ^ The younger Gossard, Josquin's father, certainly died by the time Josquin took up his inheritance in 1483 since the documents describe him as deceased. It remains uncertain if Josquin's father died after 1466, making it possible that the composer was an orphan for much of his youth.[15]
  2. ^ Modern scholarship differs in how it describes Josquin's nationality both because his exact birthplace is unknown,[14] and determining nationalities for 15th century composers is problematic in general.[19] He is only known to have been born somewhere in the French-speaking area of Flanders, either modern-day Belgium or northeastern France.[18] The musicologist Gustave Reese contends that "By far the greater number of [Josquin's] secular compositions have French texts". Culturally and legally Josquin was a Frenchman".[20] As such, sources such as Patrick Macey, Jeremy Noble, Jeffrey Dean and Reese in Grove Music Online simply label him as a "French composer".[6] The musicologist Nanie Bridgman [fr] notes that Josquin succeeded Ockeghem in leading the 'Netherland[ish] Style', but also that Josquin and his contemporaries united that school with the "very different world of French music",[19] resulting in what scholars call term the Franco-Flemish School.[21] As such, some sources refer to him as 'Franco-Flemish' instead.[22][23]
  3. ^ If the Haine theory from Fallows is correct, that would mean Josquin was born in the County of Hainaut, which would fit with a 1560 verse by the poet Pierre de Ronsard that describes Josquin as such.[26]
  4. ^ Due to chronological issues in his career Josquin was long dismissed as the 'des Prez' of Compère's motet.[29] Modern research reconfiguring the composer's biography allows for the reexamination of this possibility. See Fallows (2020, pp. 25–29) for further information.
  5. ^ The similarities between these two pieces are "often cited as a clear allusion";[34] however, Fallows expresses some uncertainty on how meaningful the similarities between Josquin's Alma Redemptoris mater/Ave regina caelorum and Ockeghem's Alma Redemptoris mater are, see Fallows (2020, p. 37). See Finscher (2000, pp. 258–260) for analysis on how Josquin quickly departs from Ockeghem's style in this work. See this image for an example.
  6. ^ a b Ave Maria ... Virgo serena is among Josquin's most frequently analyzed and celebrated works.[47] See Dumitrescu (2009), Milsom (2015) and Rifkin (2003) for further information on the motet.
  7. ^ Until 1997 Josquin was thought to have joined the papal choir in 1486, as he was mistakingly identified with a 'Jo. de Pratis' in papal documents. It is now thought that this name refers to the composer Johannes de Stokem instead, and thus the earliest record of Josquin's employment in the papal choir is from 1489.[57] See Starr (1997) for further information.
  8. ^ Fallows cites Lewis Lockwood, Joshua Rifkin, Jeremy Noble and Christopher Reynolds as supporting the later dating, against the "received view" that it was composed much earlier. Its structure has been used as evidence for dating it both in the 1480s and the early 1500s, as the rigidity of the tenor was interpreted as signs of both immaturity and also mastery. In the end, evidence of style, biography and transmission all point toward 1503/4 as the most likely period when it was composed.[94][95][37]
  9. ^ While the chapter at Bourges Cathedral asked him to become master of the choirboys there in 1508, it is not known how he responded, and there is no record of his having been employed there; most scholars presume he remained in Condé.[99]
  10. ^ a b The song survives anonymously in most sources. The attribution to Busnois, which exists in a single late source, is not generally accepted.[142]
  11. ^ Both the Missa Mater Patris and the Missa D'ung aultre amer may be spurious works; they were both rejected by Noble, but accepted by the editors of the New Josquin Edition.[113]
  12. ^ See Fallows (2001, pp. 214–252) and Litterick (2000, pp. 374–376) for information on the attribution issues surrounding Mille regretz
  13. ^ The Portrait of a Musician has a complex and controversial history of attribution (see §Attribution) but modern scholarship has secured at least a partial attribution to Leonardo da Vinci.[166][167] Fallows noted in 2020 that "no scholar in the last thirty years has disputed Leonardo's authorship, at least for the main body of the general painting."[168]
  14. ^ The remark is variously attributed to to the music publisher Georg Forster in 1540 by Elders 2013, p. 30, and to Martin Luther by Macey et al. 2011, §9 "Reputation".
  15. ^ Composers writing laments for fellow composers was a long-standing tradition in medieval and Renaissance music.[185][186] Earlier examples include F. Andrieu's Armes, amours/O flour des flours (1377) for Machaut, Ockeghem's Mort, tu as navré de ton dart (1460) for Binchois and Josquin's own Nymphes des bois (1497) for Ockeghem.[187] See Rice (1999, p. 31) for a complete list of extant medieval and Renaissance laments.
  16. ^ Sherr cited numerous articles as milestones in revising Josquin's biography, including Fallows 1996, Kellman 1976, Lockwood 1976, Matthews & Merkley 1998, Roth 2000, Starr 1997[200]
  17. ^ See Sherr 2000, Appendix B (Discography) and Charles 1983, p. 127 for comprehensive discographies


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  208. ^ Woolfe 2021.


Journal and encyclopedia articles

Further reading[edit]

See Fallows (2020, pp. 469–495) and Sherr (2017) for extensive bibliographies

Short studies
  • Barbier, Jacques (2010). Josquin Desprez. Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance (in French). Tours: Bleu nuit éditeur. ISBN 978-2-913575-87-5.
  • Fiore, Carlo (2003). Josquin des Prez. Constellatio Musica 10 (in French). Palermo: L'Epos. ISBN 978-88-8302-220-3.
Outdated historical milestones
500th anniversary reflections

External links[edit]