Josquin des Prez

The Greatest Hits of 1525

On Saturday and Sunday, October 15 & 16, 2016, Jouyssance performed a concert featuring popular pieces and composers from the early/middle Renaissance.   Here is the program and program notes from that event.  

Jouyssance preparing to sing The Greatest Hits of 1525 on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at Lutheran Church of the Master in West LA.  

Jouyssance preparing to sing The Greatest Hits of 1525 on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at Lutheran Church of the Master in West LA.  

Problems of “Authenticity” in Josquin Scholarship

by Alexandra Grabarchuk, Ph.D.

This essay originally appeared in the newsletter of the Southern California Early Music Society (SCEMS).  Reprinted with permission.  Visit the SCEMS website to join the Society and receive regular Southern California early music news and essays.  

“…there are no objective real works, any more than there are objective real authors.  It depends on our interest, that we build a certain image of a certain author, a philosopher or a composer.  Every time has its own image of Plato and Kant, every time has its own image of Bach and Mozart.  The more we fix their images, the more we are interested in their authenticity.  It is only from these fixations that it could be important to raise the question whether a certain work was in reality written by Kant, or Mozart, or by some unknown author: the intrinsic philosophical or musical significance remains always the same.  Or do you really believe that the meaning of the Critique of Pure Reason would diminish as soon as somebody had discovered that it was not written by Kant?  All these considerations concerning authenticity are part of our attitude in the twentieth century.” ~ Wim van Dooren, “General Problems of Authenticity in the Context of Renaissance Philosophy” in Proceedings of the International Josquin Symposium, Utrecht 1986.


Josquin the Man

 There is no other pivotal figure in music history about whom we know so little. Josquin is loudly touted as the central figure in Franco-Flemish music, yet there are less than two dozen items of archival data that provide any biographical information about him. Because of this scarcity, the temptation has been to scavenge information about anyone with a similar or closely related name. As David Fallows points out in his monumental Josquin, there are at least three other figures (Juschinus de Kessalia, Johannes Stokem, and Josquin Steelant) whose documents have erroneously been a part of the Josquin story, muddling up birth dates and questions of location and stylistic chronology until the late 1990s.

Scarcity of facts notwithstanding, Josquin continues to tantalize scholars, often to the point of great personal attachment. Willem Elders explains this attachment to the historical figure of Josquin through the prevalent and widely-circulated image of the Opmeer woodcut:


Josquin woodcut by Opmeer

Josquin woodcut by Opmeer


And yet even this explicit portrayal of the composer comes to us from such a distance that its resemblance to the person Josquin des Prez is questionable.  Firstly, the woodcut was copied from a painting, so it’s already a second-level representation. Yet even the verisimilitude of the painting is questionable at best, as Opmeer himself explains that it was painted after Josquin’s death and put in the Church of St. Gudule in Brussels as a way of immortalizing his memory. Not only was it painted posthumously, but 16th century painters did not share the realist values which emerged in post-Revolutionary France a few centuries later. Instead, the 16th century was marked by mannerism, a style of painting characterized by elongated figures, complex poses, and distorted settings – in other words, the unrealistic was in vogue. Judging by the woodcut, Josquin’s portrait was sufficiently simple that it’s hard to imagine it was much distorted. Regardless, one must keep in mind that it was painted by someone who didn’t necessarily value realism. 

In addition to all this, the skill of the woodcutter must be taken into account. By comparing existing paintings with their Opmeer woodcut counterparts, Elders convincingly argues that, even when copying a painting of a living person whose countenance was more familiar and widespread than that of Josquin, the resemblance is sometimes questionable.  In this side-by-side comparison of a painting and Opmeer woodcut of Pope Leo X, it is evident that although the general impression of the face is somewhat similar in both instances, it is not an overwhelming likeness.

Painting and Opmeer woodcut of Pope Leo X

Painting and Opmeer woodcut of Pope Leo X

Although Raphael did not paint in the Mannerist style, it is unclear how much the portrait of Pope Leo X actually resembled its model. What is clear, however, is that there are striking differences between the painting and woodcut.

 In other words, the image of Josquin scholars have clung to as the definitive visual representation of the composer may not be definitive at all. It is merely a fixed image the veracity of which we are unable to ascertain, and as Wim van Dooren points out in the epigraph, “the more we fix [historical figures’] images, the more we are interested in their authenticity.” Our idea of Josquin is a construction, as all historical work must be to some degree, and it has undoubtedly been shaped in part by this image, which does not necessarily stand out for its artistic excellence or exacting verisimilitude, but merely because it is the one image of Josquin that has survived.

 Josquin’s “canon”

The word canon signifies a body of work bound by some principle – whether it’s the canon of Romantic masterworks, the canon of classical music in general, or the canon of a particular composer.  The idea of the canon is often a fairly useful tool that allows music historians to talk about disparate pieces as belonging to a unified body of works. It is, however, an inherently problematic concept, and the problem becomes evident when one begins examining the unifying principle more closely. What counts as a Romantic masterwork? Is there a particular date past which musical works no longer count as Romantic? Is there a specific zeitgeist that imbues a piece with the Romantic spirit? How is this determined?  If we speak of “classical music” as a whole, what is included in that canon? Although it seems that the canon of a particular composer would be the most easily determined – after all, he or she either wrote the piece in question or not – it is still a problematic situation. The scarcity of historical evidence in Josquin studies brings these problems of authorship to light in a unique way.

 There are two types of conflicting attributions: those that offer no fundamental difficulty of resolution, and those that do. The first type of conflict is the kind that can be easily resolved through reliable historical evidence. The far more interesting type of conflict is one where no one lays an obvious claim to the particular composition; it is in these situations where scholars must develop other criteria for authenticity in order to solve the mystery. This frequently involves some investigative work of sources Finally, scholars can turn to some type of stylistic analysis, comparing the piece to other pieces securely authenticated as belonging within the canon and keeping an eye out for features unique to, or typical of, other works by the composer.

 What we have is a loosely formulated general consensus about which pieces were actually written by Josquin. I believe this idea of a group of works with a highly permeable boundary across which pieces move easily depending on current states of historical knowledge applies to any canon constructed around one composer. Below, I explore a group of works that have been attributed to both Josquin and Pierre de la Rue, highlighting the difficulty of pinpointing authorship and “authenticating” any given piece of music as belonging to one canon or another.

 Josquin and La Rue

Pierre de la Rue was arguably the finest composer of the Habsburg-Burgundian court at the turn of the 16th century. Yet after the 1530s, his fame waned and his music began to be copied without reference to his name. Previously attentive ears began to tune out of the stylistic differences between his work and that of Josquin, and a number of publishers and music scribes confused the two when making copies of the following eight works.

I wish to examine and comment on the techniques by which J. Evan Kreider analyzes and attributes three of these works: one to Josquin, one to La Rue, and one to an anonymous third party.  Through this examination, I hope to bring to light the methodology through which a “canon” is established, and demonstrate that canons as we know them are always fluid, permeable, and constructed.

Missa de beata virgine

 The Missa de beata virgine, composed just after the turn of the 16th century, is a paraphrase mass that, judging by the number of surviving sources,  appears to have been extremely popular. It is noted for its unusual voicing – the first two movements are written in four parts, and the last three in five.  Josquin was not known to have done this elsewhere, yet Kreider firmly places this piece within the Josquin canon, arguing that the misattributions of all three masses listed in the table above are resolved with relative ease. It seems that erroneous attributions of all three are found either in sources that contain conflicting attributions themselves, or have been found unreliable for other reasons. Let us examine how Kreider comes to this conclusion.

This mass does not seem to be a questionable case, as the numbers are clearly in Josquin’s favor. Of the surviving vocal sources, twenty-eight name Josquin as its author, three present the work without attributing it to a composer, and only one source points to La Rue. Of the surviving instrumental arrangements, ten indicate Josquin as composer, and the other two refrain from attributing it altogether. Yet it’s difficult to attribute it to Josquin with absolute certainty simply based on numbers – after all, scribes and copyists could have mistakenly perpetuated an erroneous attribution. The deciding factor comes from three places: Glarean’s mention of the mass, the Habsburg-Burgundian scriptorium, and the unreliability of the source that attributes it to La Rue.

 The only theorist to quote from this mass, Glarean mentions it in his Dodecachordon – and not only does he unhesitatingly name Josquin as the composer, he brings it up specifically to illustrate Josquin’s style of writing and masterful use of the modes. In other words, at the time it was felt that Josquin’s authorship of this piece was not only common knowledge, but exemplary of his style.  This in itself does not constitute proof, although it is fairly convincing.  But when one examines the manuscript sources published by the Habsburg-Burgundian scriptorium (the workshop responsible for putting out the best copies of La Rue’s masses), which is generally found to be an accurate source for attributions to La Rue, all three name Josquin as the composer of this mass. Finally, an extremely unreliable source which inexplicably splits up the movements of the Mass and attributes some to La Rue, and some to Josquin. From these disparate facts, it appears safe to say that the Missa de beata virgine was composed by Josquin. 

 Cent mille regretz

Unlike the preceding case, there are very few surviving sources for this chanson, making it more difficult to lean one way or the other merely by looking at numbers.  Cent mille regretz has been preserved in only three sources, one of which points to Josquin, one to La Rue, and one which declines to attribute it at all.  Here, Kreider turns to stylistic analysis to help resolve the mystery.  He points to three stylistic gestures as being indicative of the writing of Pierre de La Rue: strict canonic writing in the two lower voices (of the two composers, La Rue seemed to be particularly fond of canons, particularly in the tenor and/or bassus), the composer’s reliance upon a motive (the interval of a fourth generates much of the material in this chanson), and the dense texture of the chanson.  Kreider’s conclusion: “[a]lthough Renaissance musical fingerprints are uncommonly difficult to identify, we can safely conclude that Cent mille regretz is the work of La Rue.”

 Ach hülff mich layd

 The history of this piece is indicative of the bewildering array of attributions which occurred when 16th century musicians came upon a piece whose authorship was unclear. In this situation, the information that has trickled down to us in the 21st century first passed through the ears and minds of many a 16th century musician, with many different ideas about what the piece sounded like and where it fit into the grand scheme of things. For example, an ornamented keyboard transcription of the piece was attributed to Hans Buchner by his student, the Swiss copyist Fridolin Sicher. Later, an anonymous hand corrected this attribution to Josquin, but then scratched it out and connected it back to the original Buchner attribution.

 Yet looking at the musical characteristics, Kreider argues that this was the work of neither composer.  He presents the following points: 1) La Rue was not known to use the bar form elsewhere, 2) the voicing does not correspond to the previous work of either composer, 3) the borrowed melody occurs in the bassus, 4) the upper parts appear to be unrelated to this borrowed melody, and do not share motives with one another, and 5) the melodic writing “reflects the style of the previous generation.” The agenda one senses behind Kreider’s argument is that the piece was not sufficiently well-written to be attributed to either composer. It is difficult to say with certainty how persuasive the argument is, but it is clear that since musicians of the time didn’t know what to do with the piece, it didn’t strictly fit the compositional style or criteria of any one composer.

 Through this presentation of canon-forming methodology, I hope to have demonstrated the tentative quality of this type of work.  As inwardly compelling as stylistic analysis may be, or as persuasive as the numbers might be in any given case, Joshua Rifkin’s suggestion that a Josquin canon does not and cannot exist rings true. It seems that the best we can do with the scant historical information we have is to arrive at some temporary consensus regarding a particular piece, until new information is brought to light.  

An Early Music Father's Day!

On Saturday and Sunday, June 18 & 19, 2016, Jouyssance performed a concert dedicated to early music featuring father's and father figures. Here is the program and program notes from that event. 

Jouyssance sings of all things fatherly at St. Bede's Episcopal Church on Saturday, June 18, 2016.  

A Celebration of Father’s Day – Program Notes

by Nicole Baker, PhD

Welcome to Jouyssance’s Father’s Day celebration! You’ll hear about the God the Father, be he merciful, angry, our protector, or our leader. And when it comes to the father of the house, Jouyssance takes an admittedly archaic tack as it focuses on traditional concepts of men and family: you’ll meet hen-pecked husbands, rogues, drinkers, tobacco smokers, soldiers and hunters. Indeed, if we could have found a song about golf, it would have been here.

Highly prolific in his output, William Byrd produced works from viol consort music to Masses for private Catholic worship. His brief setting of a verse from Psalm 76, Terra tremuit, is often heard on Easter Sunday. Published in Byrd’s 1607 Gradualia, the work features some very obvious text-painting as the voices sing “and the earth trembled.”

The most successful Jewish composer of the late Renaissance, Salomone Rossi of Mantua was primarily a madrigalist, and he pioneered the important instrumental genre of the early Baroque, the trio sonata. Today, his best known works are his Jewish liturgical “motets.” His setting of an abridged version of the Kedusha (Keter) responses is surprisingly varied in its textures. The opening word Keter means crown, and it appears in ornate melismas in all voices. Eventually, Rossi settles into his usual homophonic texture, which is more in keeping with the early Baroque style favored in Mantua.

The anonymous Tappster, dryngker, amid all of its crassness, exhibits the sweet English sound, or contenance angloise that was a hallmark of the early to mid-15th century. Composed in the style of an English catch, it has parallel sixth chords typical for its time.

One of the finest composers of the late British Renaissance, Thomas Weelkes earned his degree at New College, Oxford, and spent much of his career at Chichester Cathedral as a singer, organist, conductor, composer, and teacher. Our first taste of Weelkes is the rowdy smoking song Come Sirrah Jack, ho, which sounds about as close to modern barbershop as late 16th century music can get. The song appears in the composer’s earthy and often topical 1608 publication, Ayeres or Phantasticke Spirites for Three Voices (his penchant for strong drink is evident in several selections). In Come Sirrah, the middle voice in effect operates in a different meter from the others, perhaps replicating the vertigo one might feel from too much tobacco.
Weelkes was also a prolific composer of service music for the Church of England, but much of it was lost. Fortunately, one of his surviving pieces is the poignant full anthem When David heard, which portrays David’s grief at losing his son Absalom. His tremendous talent as a madrigal composer helps convey the text through chromaticism and subtle word-painting.

Little is known about Pierre Certon: he worked at Notre Dame in Paris in 1529 and then moved to Saint Chapelle, where he served as master of the choristers. Certon played an important role in the development of the 16th century French chanson. The gossipy, rhythmic chanson La, la la, je ne l’ose dire exemplifies the mid-16th century Voix de ville — rustic songs centered on village life — and incorporates the dialogue style Certon favored.

One of the most diverse and prolific composers of all time, the Franco-Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso developed his international style by traveling throughout Europe as a youth in the service of the Gonzaga family. At age 24, with several posts already on his resume, Lassus gained a position at the Bavarian court in Munich, where he would remain for the rest of his life. As Hofkappellemeister, Lassus made Munich the most famous and lavish musical center in Europe. Published in 1565, the two-part motet Beati omnes qui timent Dominum shows an earlier, less chromatic side of Lasso. Giving each phrase of the psalm its due, Lasso flows effortlessly from one texture to another, indulging in occasional word painting along the way.
Later in the program we’ll present his delightful chanson, Quand mon mari. Published in 1564, the work shows Lasso’s ability to import Italian madrigalisms into French chansons. Full of irony and affect painting, he displays a mastery of textures that alternate between polyphony and homophony.

Kyrie Rex immense, Pater comes from the 12th century manuscript, the Codex Calixtinus of Santiago de Compostela. Musicologists believe that, despite its Spanish home, the manuscript originated in Aquitaine, the home of some of the earliest musically developed polyphony. The piece we present is a troped, or altered, version of a Kyrie.

The most famous Portuguese composer of his time, Duarte Lobo served as mestre de capela at Évora Cathedral and later in various posts in Lisbon. Lobo worked in a variety of styles, ranging from High Renaissance imitative counterpoint to early Baroque polychoral homophony. Published in 1621, Lobo’s Pater peccavi hearkens back to the style of Josquin, but incorporates characteristic Iberian chromaticism.

Possibly the last motet he composed, Josquin des Prez’s Pater noster/Ave Maria combines in one monumental work the two cardinal prayers of the Roman Catholic Church. Josquin left instructions and an endowment for it to be sung following his death at processions that went by his house in Condé-sur-Escaut. The moody, contemplative music departs from the more blatant imitative polyphony of his earlier days. Instead, the work includes numerous “hidden” canons that obscure his compositional method. Relatively austere and low in range, this motet features Josquin’s characteristic drive to cadences and an almost antiphonal nature.

A master of light madrigals, Thomas Vautor flourished in the early years of the 17th century, and most likely was based in Leicestershire, where he worked for George Villiers, the notorious Duke of Buckingham who may have had an amorous relationship with James I. All of his extant works are contained in a single volume, dedicated to Villiers. Witty and exquisitely crafted, Vautor’s Mother I will have a husband relies on a double-chorus texture, and no small amount of slang, to convey an argument between a precocious young girl and her mother.

Like many composers of chansons and madrigals, Pierre Passereau was widely praised in his time, but little is known about him. He is best known for lively, rhythmic works full of repeated notes and syllabic text settings that describe a situation or a story. Il est bel et bon appears in numerous editions, pointing to its popularity at the time (and now), and like many of Passereau’s chansons, deals with a rather unsophisticated subject in a witty, learned way. Listen for the onomatopoeic imitation of hens clucking.

Guillaume Dufay is arguably the greatest composer of the 15th century, and with England’s John Dunstable, helped launch the Renaissance. Often mistakenly linked to the Burgundian Court, he actually worked all over Europe, including Cambrai and Italy. Dufay composed his monumental isorhythmic motet Ecclesiae militantis for the coronation of Pope Eugenius IV on March 11, 1431. What makes this work particularly grand is the number of voices – normally there are three, but here we have five. The isorhythm appears in the slow moving lower two voices, or tenors, while the upper two voices sing different texts both praising Eugenius, and appealing to God the gentle Father for a return to peace in the Christian world. The upper two voices move fluidly and, progressive for its time, reflect the different moods of the text. All of the voices become increasingly complex in rhythmic design, leading smoothly into the brilliantly climactic final bars.

A onetime boy chorister at Canterbury and eventually a member of Chapel Royal, Edward Pearce is best known as the teacher of Thomas Ravenscroft. Few works of Pearce’s survive —
tonight’s charming A Hunting Song, with its nonsense lyrics and call-and-response interplay, is one of two secular vocal works extant.

The women of Jouyssance present the Franconian motet Psallat chorus/Eximie pater/Aptatur. Prior to the work of theorist and composer Franco of Cologne, rhythm in sacred music was limited to six patterns. Polytextual motets like this one are among the first to break free of the rhythmic modes and show some independence among the voices, thanks to a system of notation that serves as an ancestor to what we have today. The result is a delightful work involving two active upper voices and a slower moving, repetitive, lower voice.

The tune “L’homme armé” has served as the basis for some 40 settings of the Mass Ordinary from about 1450 to modern times, with Karl Jenkins’ the most recent. Johannes Ockeghem is generally considered the first “true” Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer. After stints in Antwerp and Dijon, Ockeghem moved to Paris, working for three different French kings. His music often involves complex metrical and canonic schemes that serve as the background for beautiful, consonant sonorities that served as the basis for the Renaissance sound. His Missa L’homme armé may not be as complex as other works of his, but the Gloria does present the tenor – the original chanson – in a different meter from the other voices.

Probably the greatest German composer of the late Renaissance, Hans Leo Hassler composed a wide variety of Masses, motets, canzonettas, Lieder, and keyboard music. Thanks to his study abroad, the Nuremburg native synthesized and brought back to Germany Italian compositional styles, particularly those found in Venice. It’s not known how much contact he had with the likes of Merulo, Gabrieli and Zarlino, but their work certainly influenced his, as can be heard in the brilliant, virtuosic, double-choir piece Cantemus Domino, published in 1615, which closes our program.