Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

Josquin (Lebloitte dit) des Prez [Josse, Gosse, Joskin, Jossequin, Josquinus, Jodocus, Judocus, Juschino; Desprez, des Près, des Prés, de Prés, a Prato, de Prato, Pratensis]

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Josquin (Lebloitte dit) des Prez [Josse, Gosse, Joskin, Jossequin, Josquinus, Jodocus, Judocus, Juschino; Desprez, des Près, des Prés, de Prés, a Prato, de Prato, Pratensis]

(b ? nr Saint Quentin, c1450–55; d Condé-sur-l’Escaut, 27 Aug 1521). French composer. He was one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance, whose reputation stands on a level with those of Du Fay, Ockeghem, Palestrina, Lassus and Byrd. His music spans the transition between the sound-world of the late Middle Ages and that of the High Renaissance, and served as a model for much of the 16th century. ‘Josquin’ is the diminutive of Josse (Lat. Judocus), the name of a Breton saint active in northern France and Flanders in the 7th century; an uncommon name in recent times, it was widespread in that region during the 15th and 16th centuries.

1. Birth, family and early training (c1450–75).

2. Aix-en-Provence, ?Paris, Condé-sur-l’Escaut (c1475–1483).

3. Milan and elsewhere (1484–9).

4. The papal chapel (1489–c1495).

5. Italy and France (1498–1503).

6. Ferrara (1503–4).

7. Condé-sur-l’Escaut (1504–21).

8. Portrait of Josquin.

9. Reputation.

10. Works: canon and chronology.

11. Motets.

12. Masses.

13. Secular works.




Josquin des Prez

1. Birth, family and early training (c1450–75).

The documentation of Josquin’s life is riddled with gaps; the earlier part of his career has been subject to considerable re-evaluation since the middle of the 20th century, and his place and date of birth remain uncertain. The evidence for the early part of his life is largely derivative or inferential, although a few definite points can be established.

Josquin spent the last years of his life as provost of the collegiate church of Notre Dame in Condé-sur-l’Escaut, on the border of the imperial county of Hainaut, and it is evident that he had long-standing family connections with the place (see fig.1). Documents connected with his inheritance of property in the town in 1483 show that his apparently childless uncle and aunt, Gilles Lebloitte dit Desprez and Jacque Banestonne, had named him their heir already in 1466, perhaps after the death of his father Gossard Lebloitte dit Desprez; the will had been witnessed by the mayor and several aldermen of Condé (see Matthews and Merkley, 1998). Josquin himself is given the same complex surname in these documents, and it is evident that the family name was actually Lebloitte, while Des Prez was a sobriquet (perhaps assumed by Josquin’s grandfather since both his father and his uncle used it) that was evolving into a surname.

Josquin cannot, however, have been born in Condé, for just before his death he declared himself legally a foreigner (aubain); he must therefore have been born outside the lordship of Condé if not outside the Empire. Josquin stated that he was from beyond the ‘Noir Eauwe’, perhaps referring to the Eau Noire in the Ardennes, which formed part of the southern boundary between Hainaut and France. A village called Prez, possibly perhaps the origin of the family sobriquet, is located about 17 km south of this river (see Clarke, 1966), but Josquin may have meant some as yet unidentified watercourse nearer to Condé (see Kellman, 1971).

The former hypothesis receives some support from the tantalizingly imprecise evidence of the 17th-century antiquary Claude Hémeré (Tabella chronologica decanorum … ecclesiae S. Quintini, Paris, 1633, pp.161–2 = 159–60). He stated that Josquin had been first a choirboy at the royal collegiate church of Saint Quentin, then in charge of its music, but he gave no specific dates. Hémeré’s inaccurate statement that Josquin was master of the French royal chapel under François I (see below) does not necessarily cast doubt on his reporting of the documents from St Quentin, which he consulted, though they were destroyed in 1669. Saint Quentin was an important centre of French royal musical patronage: Loyset Compère (d 1518) and Jean Mouton (d 1522), for example, held canonries there, and both composers were buried in the church. Saint Quentin, though it lies some 70 or 80 km to the west, was the natural centre of gravity for the district south of the Eau Noire.

Josquin’s deathbed declaration shows that the famous statement by the poet Ronsard that Josquin was ‘Hennuyer de nation’ (preface to Livre de meslanges, Paris, 1560, 2/15722) involves a confusion of his later residence in Hainaut with his birthplace. In the Tschudi Liederbuch (Ch-SGs 463), copied around 1540 by a friend of Glarean’s, Josquin is called ‘belga Veromanduus’ (from the county of Vermandois, whose chief town was Saint Quentin). Finally, Josquin may himself have given a clue to his birthplace in his motet Illibata Dei virgo nutrix: the initial letters (in one case a word) of the verses of the prima pars spell out his name IOSQVIN Des PREZ, and a corresponding acrostic has been suspected in the secunda pars. Here the division into verses is less clear; the most plausible candidate seems to be ACAVVESCAVGA, out of which the name of the river Escau(t) leaps to the eye. The Escaut rises about 20 km north of Saint Quentin, and it has been speculated that Josquin was born in the nearby village of Beaurevoir (Raugel, 1921).

The date of Josquin’s birth was long estimated at about 1450, until in 1956 Claudio Sartori brought to light many documents concerning one Judochus de Picardia or Juschinus de Frantia, who was an adult singer (biscantor) of Milan Cathedral from 1459 to 1472; he identified this man with a singer of the same name in the chapel of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza from 1473 (earlier documented by Porro, 1878–9, and Motta, 1887), long identified with Josquin des Prez. A date of birth around 1450 remained plausible so long as Josquin’s earliest known activity was in 1473, but the extension of his adult career back as far as 1459 compelled a new estimate of about 1440. Recent archival discoveries have enlarged our knowledge about the Milanese singer, however, and finally proved him distinct from Josquin des Prez. The surname of the Josquin in Milan was latinized as ‘de Kessalia’; his father’s name was Honodius rather than Gossard; and he continued to serve the Milanese court until his death in 1498 (see Matthews and Merkley, 1998). There no longer seems any reason to doubt that Josquin des Prez was born about 1450 or perhaps a few years later, that he was a close contemporary of Compère and Isaac and only a few years older than Obrecht; his earliest known activity in the mid-1470s fits reasonably with such a date.

If Josquin was not a choirboy at Saint Quentin as Hémeré stated, he must have been trained in a similar maîtrise elsewhere in northern France or Hainaut, perhaps in Condé itself. Nothing whatever is known of his movements before he appears in the service of René of Anjou in the late 1470s (see below), but there are one or two suggestive clues. Josquin seems to have had some significant contact with Ockeghem, although the statement of Zarlino (Le istitutioni harmoniche, 1558, repeated by Zacconi, Prattica di musica, 1592) that he was a pupil of Ockeghem’s is unsupported and may only mean that he learnt from the older composer’s example. Nevertheless, no fewer than four apparently early works make use of Ockeghem’s chanson D’ung aultre amer (a mass, a separate Sanctus and the motets Tu solus qui facis mirabilia and Victimae paschali laudes), and the early double motet Alma Redemptoris mater/Ave regina caelorum begins by quoting the opening of Ockeghem’s Alma Redemptoris mater. Most suggestively, Josquin set Jean Molinet’s lament on Ockeghem’s death (1497), Nymphes des bois, as one of his most celebrated and moving works; he was also named in the company of musicians associated with the French royal chapel (of which Ockeghem had been a high-ranking member since the early 1450s) in Guillaume Crétin’s long poem on Ockeghem’s death.

Josquin had earlier been listed in Compère’s motet Omnium bonorum plena, which names a number of musicians associated in some degree with Cambrai Cathedral, including Tinctoris and Regis but pre-eminently Guillaume Du Fay; the occasion may have been the cathedral’s dedication in 1472 (see G. Montagna, EMH, vii, 1987), but it must in any case have antedated Du Fay’s death in 1474. The names of Busnoys and Ockeghem are followed by ‘Des pres’, which most likely refers to Josquin, who was a cleric of the diocese of Cambrai. It is less probable that Pasquier du Pré (also called Desprez), a member of the Burgundian court chapel from 1464 to 1477 who had no known connection to Cambrai, was meant (but see Hamm, 1960). As with his relationship to Ockeghem, it is unclear what the nature of Josquin’s association with Cambrai Cathedral may have been.

Josquin des Prez

2. Aix-en-Provence, ?Paris, Condé-sur-l’Escaut (c1475–1483).

The first certain employment of Josquin is attested by a document dated 19 April 1477 which calls him ‘Josquinus Despres’ and lists him as a singer in the chapel in Aix-en-Provence of René, duke of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar, count of Provence and nominal king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem. Another document seems to place him in Aix already in 1475 (see Merkeley, 1999, p.428). His presence at René’s court in Aix lasted at least until 26 March 1478, when a document in French refers to him as ‘Jossequin des Prez’ and certifies his eligibility to receive the first available prebend in the collegiate church of St Maxe du Château in Bar-le-Duc, the capital of René’s duchy of Bar. There is no further documentation for Josquin until early 1483, but he may well have remained in the service of René until the latter’s death in 1480. If he did, then in all probability he transferred in 1481 along with the other singers in René’s chapel to the service of King Louis XI of France, who placed René’s singers in the Ste Chapelle, Paris. Josquin’s motet Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo suggests direct contact with Louis: in 1481 the seriously ill king ordered the artist Jean Bourdichon to paint this verse from Psalm lxxxviii in azure lettering on 50 scrolls displayed throughout his château of Plessis-lés-Tours (see Macey, 1991). Josquin seems to have created a musical testament for Louis, who died in August 1483 with the psalm verse ‘In te Domine speravi, non confundar in aeternum’ – the closing words of the motet – on his lips.

After a documentary hiatus of nearly five years, Josquin’s name reappears in February and March 1483, when he returned to Condé-sur-l’Escaut to claim his inheritance from his uncle and aunt, mentioned above. About the same time, he was given four los of wine by the chapter of Notre Dame, Condé, to mark ‘his first return after the French wars’ (see Reese and Noble, 1984). The wars between France and Burgundy had lasted from the death of Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy in 1477 until 1483. Condé, just over the border in imperial territory, had been besieged and captured in May 1478 by King Louis XI, but just one month later, under threat of an approaching army led by the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian, the king’s forces abandoned Condé after locking the populace into the church and setting fire to the town. Possibly Josquin’s uncle and aunt perished in the conflagration; he seems to have taken the first opportunity upon the establishment of peace to return and settle their estate.

The level of Josquin’s attainment as a composer by the early 1480s is demonstrated not only by Misericordias Domini but by a number of works that had been copied by that time. The Casanatense chansonnier (I-Rc 2856) was prepared in Ferrara most probably about 1480 to honour the betrothal of Isabella d’Este to Francesco Gonzaga (see LockwoodMRF). In addition to works by composers active in Ferrara and Milan, such as Johannes Martini, Agricola, Compère and Japart, the manuscript contains French and Burgundian music, including works by Ockeghem, Hayne van Ghizeghem and Busnoys, none of whom travelled to Italy. It ascribes six chansons to Josquin (spelling his name differently each time, which suggests it was not well known to the copyist): Adieu mes amours, the four-voice En l’ombre d’ung buissonet, Et trop penser, Ile fantazies de Joskin, Que vous ma dame and Une mousque de Biscaye. The polished and expressive Ave Maria … virgo serena was copied within a few years of 1476 into some blank pages at the end of a gathering in the Leopold codex (D-Mbs Mus.ms.3154) whose paper is dated in that year.

Josquin des Prez

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