Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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13. Secular works.

The difficulties that impede a clear picture of Josquin’s development as a composer of masses and motets are if possible increased when we turn to his secular music, since the sources are fewer, more scattered and less reliable. Petrucci included some 20 three- and four-part pieces in his earliest collections of secular music, but in several cases the attribution to Josquin is questionable on grounds of style or the evidence of other sources, and in a few Petrucci himself withdrew it in subsequent printings. His first and third books of frottolas, first published in 1504 and 1505 respectively, contain one piece each attributed to ‘Josquin d’Ascanio’; these two and the lively Scaramella seem to be Josquin’s only surviving settings of Italian texts. Individual as are these pieces and the two motet-like extracts from Virgil’s Aeneid (perhaps composed for an Italian court), they hardly alter the fact that Josquin’s main concern in secular composition was the chanson. Two double canons were included, anonymously, in Antico’s collection of that specialized genre of chanson (RISM 15203), and a further, very valuable, group of six three-part pieces in the same publisher’s La couronne et fleur des chansons à troys (15361). A miscellaneous anthology published at Augsburg (15407) was the first to make available a few of the five- and six-part chansons, but it was not until the appearance in 1545 of Susato’s Septiesme livre (a memorial volume devoted entirely to Josquin, together with elegies on his death) that the bulk of these, some two dozen, were given the wider circulation of print. Susato’s volume was reprinted four years later by his Parisian competitor Attaingnant, with the omission of the memorial tributes by other hands and the addition of a few more pieces of dubious authenticity. This admittedly implies some degree of public response, but the fact remains that these two publications, together with a rather earlier set of manuscript partbooks written in Flanders (A-Wn Mus.18746), are almost the only sources to transmit what seems, in retrospect, to have been the greatest of Josquin’s achievements as a composer of chansons – a body of works that brings into this genre the pathos and constructive power, albeit on a smaller scale, that inform his later motets.

They provide a fairly clear idea of the last stage of Josquin’s career as a chanson composer. Its beginnings, however, can only be deduced from the works printed by Petrucci and scattered, often anonymously, through various manuscripts, mostly Italian. The chronology of these works is still very much a matter of conjecture, but allowing for the possibility of false attributions it does seem safe to say that Josquin began life as a chanson composer in the style developed during the 15th century at the French and Burgundian courts and carried to its final flowering by Busnoys and Ockeghem – a style in which directness of declamation and rhythmic repetition are deliberately suppressed in favour of a linear elegance matching the studied artificiality of the verse. This music further matches the poetry in its careful observance of the formes fixes, the system of smaller and larger repetitions which together go to make up the total shape of both poem and composition. In what are presumably Josquin’s earliest surviving chansons these formalities are still observed: in Cela sans plus, for instance, the cadence that brings the music to a temporary halt at bar 33 clearly suggests the rondeau form, even though the music may have been conceived for instrumental performance. What is already different from Ockeghem, however, is the emphasis on strict imitation (the two upper voices are in canon for the first 25 bars) and on rhythmic and melodic repetition; the fivefold rising sequence in the second half of the piece is as typical of the younger composer as it is untypical of the older. In La plus des plus, also printed in Petrucci’s Odhecaton, continued movement in the bass prevents the median cadence from functioning as in a rondeau, nor does the only known poem with this incipit fit the music at all comfortably. The music seems, in any case, to have been composed almost autonomously and gives the impression that Josquin was here primarily concerned with the working out of purely musical problems: for instance, it explores the possibilities of imitation at three pitches a 5th and a 9th (instead of the usual octave) apart – a technical problem also handled in Fortuna d’un gran tempo (for a discussion of which see Lowinsky, 1943).

The question arises as to how many of these early pieces were conceived to be sung at all and how many were from the start instrumental. Certainly Petrucci and most of the manuscript sources omit the words, so that the practice of purely instrumental performance must have been widespread. This is probably the origin of even more unambiguously instrumental pieces such as La Bernardina and Ile fantazies de Joskin (as it is called in its only source, I-Rc 2856), where there seems to be no reference to any text or borrowed vocal material at all. These pieces give the impression of being completely free-composed and as such represent the earliest steps towards the specifically instrumental contrapuntal style that was to be explored by Willaert and his contemporaries in the next generation.

But as a general rule Josquin preferred to base a composition, whether or not voices were intended to take part in its performance, on pre-existing material, and for this purpose he drew on the ‘popular’ music of his time – not necessarily folksong in the accepted sense, but music in the popular consciousness – a rich but labyrinthine repertory which partly survives in monophonic chansonniers (notably F-Pn fr.9346 and 12744) and was thoroughly explored in H.M. Brown: Music in the French Secular Theater, 1400–1550 (Cambridge, MA, 1963). Josquin’s practice in arranging such tunes naturally varies. One of the simplest examples is Bergerette savoyenne (or savoisienne); here an elaborated version of the pre-existing tune is given to the top voice, each line being anticipated in the lower, accompanying voices. In Je sey bien dire (from Canti C) a tune with a strongly marked dance character is put in the tenor, while a web of partly imitative counterpoint is spun above and below it. L’homme armé, a rather primitive four-part notational puzzle which seems, however, unlikely to be authentic, also has its borrowed melody in the tenor.

Even in these relatively straightforward pieces there is a certain piquancy in the contrast between the simplicity of the basic material and the artfulness with which it is treated, but this is further heightened in the arrangements in which Josquin makes use of his favourite device of canon. In some, the type of strict imitation between the upper voices that we have already met in three-part pieces is transferred to the upper pair of four, as in the setting of Une musque de Biscaye, in which an elaborated version of the tune is presented in close canon at the 4th between the two upper voices. Even more ingenious are the four-part pieces which consist of two simultaneous canons: En l’ombre d’ung buissonet au matinet, Baisez moy (spoilt in the possibly unauthentic six-part version by the addition of yet another canon) and Se congié prens [Recordans de my segnora] – if this latter, with its clumsy patch at bars 22–3, is really by Josquin. (The four-voice Salve regina, though it is on a larger scale, also belongs with these works.) The canons in such pieces are too close to perform much more than a textural function; in others, though, Josquin can perhaps be seen to be working his way towards the concept of canon as an architectural scaffolding, articulating the melodic and tonal structure of an entire piece, which is so marked a feature of his later motets and masses. In Adieu mes amours, for instance, the very well-known tune is presented in turn, quasi-canonically, by the two lower voices, while the upper ones proceed more freely. (In one source the top voice is given a rondeau cinquain to sing, but the music takes little account of the requirements of the forme fixe.) The four-part setting of Entree suis proceeds very similarly, but with more motivic integration of the free voices. The basic tune of this piece also appears with the German text In meinem Sinn and with cognate Flemish forms; no doubt this encouraged the dissemination of Josquin’s arrangement. The same applies to Comment peult haver joye, in which the tune (also associated with the German text Wohlauf, Gesell, von hinnen) is presented in strict canon with great clarity; this piece was printed by Glarean as a motet (O Jesu fili David) – just one instance of the way in which Josquin’s music was annexed for use in the German-speaking countries. The five-part arrangement of the bass-danse melody La Spagna would be another, but the qualities of lucid structure and varied texture associated with Josquin (not to mention basic competence in the handling of dissonance) are so conspicuously absent from it that it is impossible to accept it as authentic on the shaky testimony of Ott, who published it as a motet (Propter peccata) in 1537.

The earliest stage in Josquin’s development of the chanson for more than four voices is probably represented by his six-part setting of Se congié prens, another popular tune. Here the canonic voices clearly perform a structural function, with dux and comes ingeniously reversing roles during the central section, but the texture is by no means as integrated as in later works of this kind. This, in fact, is probably the earliest of the pieces included by Susato in his memorial volume of 1545, for they are on the whole conspicuous for the way in which the canonic voices (the great majority are constructed round a scaffolding of this kind) are blended into the surrounding texture. Se congié prens is not the only one to make use of a popular tune: Faulte d’argent (whose authenticity is questioned in Van Benthem, 1970), Petite camusette, Vous ne l’aurez pas and Tenez-moy en vos bras are further examples. Other chansons, most notably the famous setting of Jean Molinet’s elegy on the death of Ockeghem, Nymphes des bois/Requiem aeternam, make use of a plainsong cantus firmus. Occasionally Josquin reworked a voice part from some earlier composition: Ma bouche rit borrows the superius of Ockeghem’s chanson and gives it a new, rich, and surely instrumental setting – a more elaborate development of the treatment Josquin had already accorded to Hayne’s De tous biens playne in a piece published in the Odhecaton. Several of the most individual, however, seem to be completely free-composed, such as the profoundly pathetic Regretz sans fin. In these pieces, too, it is noteworthy that although the old forme-fixe structure with its rigidly sectional cadence points had been completely abandoned in favour of through-composition, Josquin almost always took care to mirror the rhyme structure of the poem with musical repetition, either strict or varied: this applies particularly to the opening lines or couplets, as in Incessament livré, Plusieurs regretz, Je me complains and Douleur me bat. The old relationship to the structure of the text has been replaced by a new one, more in keeping with the denser texture and slower movement of a new musical style.

In his later chansons for a smaller number of voices Josquin generally eschewed canon: Plus nulz regretz and Mille regretz, both for four, are freely composed, though with the same clear articulation of lines and melodic points of imitation, achieved by a carefully balanced hierarchy of cadences. Nor did Josquin confine himself to a mood of sombre pathos, though it certainly seems to have been the one most congenial to him in his later years. Of the three-part pieces transmitted by Antico, Si j’avoys Marion, Si j’ay perdu mon amy and the two different pieces beginning En l’ombre d’ung buissonet all look forward in their elegant handling of light-hearted popular material to the ‘Parisian’ chanson of Janequin and his contemporaries. Quant je vous voy applies the same refined technique to more lyrical ideas (perhaps Josquin’s own), while La belle se siet is an astonishingly original handling of an old ballad tune as the basis for what could almost be an instrumental fantasia if it were not for the patches of clearcut declamation; it is a unique and fascinating piece. In this collection Josquin rubs shoulders with a younger generation of French court composers, such as Févin. But there can be no doubt that the real influence of his later chanson style was felt farther north, above all by Willaert.

Josquin des Prez


N.B.: Entries in italics are cross-references to works listed elsewhere in the work-list

Editions: Werken van Josquin des Près, ed. A. Smijers and others (Amsterdam, 1921–69): Missen [Mis. deel: aflevering, no.] (separate mass sections are numbered as Fragmenta missarum [Fm no.]); Motetten [Mot. deel: aflevering, no.]; Wereldlijke werken [WW deel: aflevering, no.]; Supplement [Suppl.: 55, no.]Josquin des Prez: Opera omnia, editio altera, ed. A. Smijers (Amsterdam, 1957) [OO] (2nd edn of Mis.i: 10–11, nos.1–2 only)New Josquin Edition (Amsterdam, 1989–) [NJE – volume.number within volume] (Works deemed spurious by the editors of the NJE are numbered and dealt with in the commentary, though they are not edited; their NJE nos. are given in square brackets. The nos. of works in vols. not yet published are subject to change and are thus given in parentheses.)


The Josquin Companion, ed. R. Sherr (Oxford, forthcoming)

Misse Josquin (Venice, 1502; 2/1506 as Liber primus missarum Josquin, 3/1516, 5/1526)

Missarum Josquin liber secundus (Venice, 1505, 2/1515, 4/1526)

Missarum Josquin liber tertius (Fossombrone, 1514, 3/1526)

Josquini Pratensis … Moduli ex sacris literis delecti, 4–6vv, liber primus (Paris, 1555) [1555]

Le septiesme livre contenant 24 chansons, 5–6vv, composées par … Josquin des Pres (Antwerp, 154515)

Trente sixiesme livre contenant 30 chansons, 4–6vv … le tout de la composition de feu Josquin des Prez (Paris, 1549) [1549]

Further sources in Charles (1983); full sources forthcoming in NJE


mass sections

ritual works


secular works

doubtful and misattributed works

conjecturally attributed works

Josquin des Prez: Works


Title or Incipit

No. of parts



Missa ad fugam




Edition :

Mis.iii: 28, no.14


Remarks :

Sup and T in canon throughout; ?early

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