Josquin Des Prez

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Josquin des Prez:
A Master of Sixteenth Century Counterpoint

Analysis of Josquin’s Miserere
[pic]
(only known surviving picture of Josquin des Prez)[1]

Josquin des Prez:
A Master of Sixteenth Century Counterpoint

In the following paper, I will prove that Josquin’s Miserere is that of “typical” sixteenth century piece. While the Miserere has been noted as anything but typical, for use in this paper “typical” will be defined as “possessing all the qualities” of a sixteenth century five-voiced motet. I will demonstrate that Josquin adhered to the “typical” counterpoint rules in the sixteenth century.

Josquin’s life
For all of his musical fame, Josquin des Prez still remains a “surprisingly elusive historical figure.”[2] Because there are many periods in Josquin’s life where his specific activities and involvement cannot be traced exactly, there is dispute between historians about the exact chronology of Josquin.

The most recent research into the life of Josquin reports that he was born between 1450 and 1455 in an unknown place. He was also educated in an unknown location, possibly Saint-Quentin or perhaps in residence at Conde-sur-Escaut, France. From 1475 to circa 1480 he was believed to be a member of the chapel of King Rene of Anjou in Aix-en-Provence. From 1484- 1485 he was a member of the household of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in Milan and Rome, Italy.

It is believed that he was a member of the ducal chapel in Milan from 1489 to circa 1495, then member of the papal chapel in Rome. From 1498 - 1499 he was in the household of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in Rome. In 1502 he was recruited by Ercole d’Este and became a member of the chapel of Ercole d’Este in Ferrara. From 1504- 1521 he had a residence in Conde-sur-Escaut as provost of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame. In 1521, he died in Conde-sur-Escaut. At present, this seems to be the most academically accepted timeline of Josquin’s life.[3] [pic][4]

Once a timeline of his life has been established a timeline for his music must be established. However, this task is not quite as simple as it sounds. Even the leading experts on the study of Josquin des Prez cannot derive a chronological order of his works that is credible. “One of the most problematic features of Josquin research is that no single tool yet discovered has alone been sufficient to establish a secure chronology.”[5]

Despite all the chronological discrepancies, it is known for certain that even in the fifteenth century, Josquin was a well-known composer. He was modeled by his peers and revered by all. His music was seen as the epitome of polyphonic bliss. “Few musicians have enjoyed higher renown while they lived or exercised more profound and lasting influence than Josquin des Prez.”[6]

Actually, Josquin’s documented career would have hardly seemed notable had it not been for the recorded high praise of his peers.[7] “Contemporaries hailed him as ‘the best of the composers of our time,’ and the ‘father of musicians.’”[8] “Josquin was without peer in music, on a par with Michelangelo in architecture, painting and sculpture.”[9] These quotes are only a brief glimpse into how much his contemporaries admired and desired to emulate his work.

Josquin’s peers not only loved his work, they wanted it for their own. It is known that his contemporaries reinterpreted his compositions: they would omit or add voice parts, change rhythmic and melodic details, retext, rearrange, and revise existing works. While they aided in perpetuating his memory they commonly appropriated his music and made it their own. They even went so far as to copy and print other works under his name; print his works of under the names of others; or print his works under no name at all.[10] Typical characteristics of the five-voiced motet of the sixteenth century

With the motet as the forerunner, counterpoint in the sixteenth century was becoming a true stylistic art. “The motet . . ....
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