Josquin remained active during his final years as provost of the collegiate church of Notre Dame in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. In the early 16th century Notre Dame, Condé, was ranked very highly for the quality of its music among the churches of Hainaut, surpassed only by St Vincent, Soignies, and, just to the south of Hainaut, by Cambrai Cathedral; the availability of a good choir at Condé no doubt made it an attractive place for Josquin to settle for his last and longest sojourn.
Josquin must have travelled directly from Ferrara to Condé, since he arrived there on 3 May 1504, according to a document that lists money received for admitting four canons into the chapter of Notre Dame, including ‘Monsieur le Prévost, messire Josse des pres’. As provost, Josquin presided over a large establishment, including a dean, treasurer, 25 canons (mostly non-resident), 18 chaplains, 16 vicars, 6 choirboys, and non-beneficed priests. The services were sung mostly by the vicars and choirboys, so that a choir of up to 22 singers could be marshalled. Josquin’s predecessor, Pierre Duwez, had agreed to resign the provostship in exchange for a similar post at Douai, which had been occupied by Loyset Compère since 1500. Compère in turn probably moved to a canonry at Saint Quentin, where he died in 1518. Josquin’s election by the chapter of Notre Dame may have been due to the sponsorship of Philip the Fair, whose support he may have sought at one of the archduke’s meetings with Louis XII. It should be noted that Pierre Duwez himself had been a long-time member of the Burgundian chapel, dating back to Charles the Bold’s reign in 1467, and at least four other members of the Burgundian chapel of Philip the Fair held prebends or canonries at Condé.
Further evidence that Burgundian rulers sought to have their candidates appointed to positions at Condé occurs in a letter to the chapter from Margaret of Austria. After her brother Philip the Fair’s death in 1506, Margaret arrived in the spring of 1507 to govern as regent in the Netherlands. The assumption of close relations between Josquin and Margaret’s court in Mechelen has been questioned, because her letter to the chapter of Condé in May 1508 indicates that she was unaware that Josquin was provost. Early commentators (Delporte, 1939; Osthoff, 1962–5) interpreted her letter as an inquiry about Josquin’s health and an offer to send a Dr Collauer for assistance. In fact she mistakenly believed that Pierre Duwez, who died in 1508, had remained as provost of Condé, and she was seeking the supposedly vacant position for Collauer, who was not a medical doctor but rather secretary to her father Maximilian. The chapter responded that their provost was in fact alive and in very good health, and that he was called Josquin des Prez (see Kellman, 1971).
Margaret’s ignorance in May 1508 that Josquin was provost of Condé suggests that she had no part in commissioning his chanson Plus nulz regretz. This sets a poem by Jean Lemaire de Belges written for the celebration on 1 January 1508 of the earlier signing of the Treaty of Calais, arranged by Margaret to secure the marriage of her nephew Charles (the future emperor) to Mary Tudor of England (see Kellman, 1971; Picker, 1978). Margaret did write to Josquin in 1519, however, urging him to favour the election of Jehan Lommel, a chaplain of Philip the Fair and Charles V, to the vacant deanship in Condé (Lille, Archives Générales du Nord, B.19049, nos.40937–8).
Lemaire, who worked in France until 1503 and for Margaret of Austria from 1504 to 1512, wrote a long poem, La plainte du desiré, to commemorate the death in 1503 of the French military leader, Louis of Luxembourg. In a later version of the poem, Josquin is called upon to compose a lament based on the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and it has been supposed that the five-voice Cueurs desolez, with its cantus firmus Plorans ploravi taken from the Lamentations, is the result (see Osthoff, 1962–5). Although the original version of the Plainte called not upon Josquin but ‘Hillaire’ (see Picker, 1978) and Cueurs desolez is preserved only in Attaingnant’s collection of Josquin’s chansons published in 1549, not in the more reliable collection published by Susato (RISM 154515), the style of the chanson is far closer to Josquin’s than to Hylaire’s; it has much in common with Mille regretz.
Recalling that Josquin had held a benefice in the diocese of Bourges from 1484 until 1489, it is intriguing to note that in September 1508 the chapter of Bourges Cathedral wrote to him seeking his services as master of the choirboys, and in September and October 1509 a member of the chapter was paid for expenses incurred for travel to ‘Picardy’ (probably a mistake for the adjacent Hainaut) to seek an interview with the composer (see Higgins, 1997). It is not known whether Josquin responded to the overtures from Bourges, but it is clear that he was thought to be still active and available. Other evidence of Josquin’s presence in Condé is provided by negotiations carried on with the papal curia regarding the exchange of benefices in Arras in May 1509 and Tournai in January 1513 (see Sherr, 1994). Finally, in 1520, an entry in the records of Charles V notes that the emperor ordered a substantial payment to two singers from Condé – one of them called ‘Joskin’ – who had travelled to Brussels or Mechelen to present him with some new chansons. The singer may be Josquin des Prez (see Osthoff, 1962–5; Picker, 1978), or someone else with the same name (see Kellman, 1971). It is perhaps significant that Josquin’s late chanson Mille regretz was a favourite of the emperor (see Rees, 1995).
On 23 August 1521 Josquin was visited by the mayor of Condé and other aldermen, to whom he formally declared himself a ‘foreigner’ (see above). He then paid the necessary tax so that his property would not revert to the feudal lord of Condé upon his death. Josquin left his goods to the chapter of Notre Dame in Condé, and a year after his death his house was sold to endow commemorative services for him. These included a Salve service on Saturdays and vigils of feasts of the Blessed Virgin, and also the performance of his own six-voice setting of the Pater noster and Ave Mariaon days of processions, to be sung when the procession halted before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary attached to the wall of Josquin’s house, which stood on the market square (see Kellman, 1971). The motet’s late style suggests that it was composed in Condé.
The date of Josquin’s death was specified in the inscription on his tombstone:
Chy gist Sire Josse despres
Prevost de cheens fut jadis:
Priez Dieu pour les trespassés
Qui leur donne son paradis.
Trepassa l’an 1521 le 27 d’aoust:
Spes mea semper fuisti.
Here lies Master Josse Despres, formerly provost of this place; pray to God for the dead, that he grant them his paradise. He died in the year 1521 on 27 August. Thou hast ever been my hope.
He was buried in the church of Notre Dame at Condé, but his tomb is no longer extant; the church, sacked by Huguenots during the Wars of Religion in the late 16th century, was completely demolished in 1793 during the French Revolution. The site is today an open square planted with trees. Only in the 19th century was the inscription discovered (FétisB), in a 17th-century manuscript collection of funerary inscriptions from Flanders, Hainaut and Brabant (F-Lm 389).