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The Misattributions of Josquin

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The Misattributions of Josquin

Ashley Sullivan

There are many reasons to account for Josquin’s reputation as the finest composer of his time. He was one of the first composers to benefit from print culture. Printing gave Josquin the ability to achieve recognition that was previously denied from composers whose work was distributed only in manuscript, which was really expensive. In addition, Josquin’s unique style, which would have been considered arrogant in the era before his time, was instead praised due to the evolving movements of the Renaissance. These movements, including humanism and Protestantism both valued individualism which allowed Josquin to flourish with his distinctive and innovative style. Although he is so greatly admired, many of his works have been proven not to be authentic and misattributed. In the New Grove catalogue of Josquin’s works, out of 315 compositions 136 are thought to be misattributed to him. This has been a central problem in the authenticity and chronology of Josquin’s output and career.
In this paper, I will try to bring light to certain errors in the documentation of Josquin’s career that have been assumed to be a part of his life which have caused confusion not only in his biography but also in his career. In order to accomplish this I will 1) Discuss Josquin’s background of his life and career; 2) Examine why Josquin is so popular and widely revered and how that affected the documentation of his life; 3) Explore one of the compositions attributed to Josquin that is now thought to not be his to explain why it couldn’t have been written by Josquin but also consider how confusion could occur due to similar composing styles of his contemporaries. Josquin’s history continues to be revisited due to the inconsistency of his biography and career. My purpose is to give insight to not only the reader but myself as well on whom Josquin des Prez really was and why there is so little information on someone who was arguably one of the greatest composers during the Renaissance. I hope to achieve through research more knowledge on a composer who had a great amount of influence on early music who is still revered today.
Josquin is looked upon as the greatest composer of his time. His motets, masses, and secular songs were commonly sung, praised, and imitated not only in his lifetime but also for decades after his death. He held consecutively high-status positions at courts and churches in France and Italy and his compositions appeared in many manuscripts and printed collections than any other composer before 1550 but who was Josquin? For someone with such prolific fame there seems to not be much information to actually give an account on who Josquin was as a person or composer making it confusing
To start with Josquin was born around 1450. This is estimated through the chronology of his works. There is no documentation of Josquin’s early years so there is no clear information about his birth date or where he was born. However it is believed that he was from Picardy. Many of the details in earlier studies came from documents that concern some other Josquin. There was an adult singer named Josquin in Milan Cathedral, Josquin de Kessalia. The whereabouts of Josquin during the time he was said to be in Milan are now unknown but Josquin de Kessalia has been a big part of Josquin Des Prez’ career. According to David Fallows, it is possible that Josquin could be fifteen years younger than what is thought now. Also, documents from Milan suggest that Josquin was from Picardy but now it is known that this information is from records in Milan. Another statement that has been on the fence is that he studied with Ockeghem but there is no evidence that there was ever a relationship between them. However, Josquin did compose a motet in honor of him.
The earliest documentation that is true of Josquin is his time serving in the chapel of the duke of Anjou from 1477 to 1489. In 1489, Josquin made his way into the papal chapel, disappears and then comes back up again in 1501 working for King Louis XII in France. In 1503, Josquin ended up in Ferrara where he was appointed maestro di cappella to Duke Ercole I d’Este and earned the highest salary in that court’s history. The story of this chapter in Josquin’s career is that one of the duke’s agents wrote the duke to recruit Henry Isaac over Josquin. This is the only account of him that gives a taste of his personality. This is known to be the most famous account of him:
To me he [Isaac] seems well suited to serve Your Lordship, more so than Josquin, because he is more good-natured and companionable, and he will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to, and not when one wants him to, and he is asking 200 ducats in salary while Isaac will come for 120—but Your Lordship will decide
Duke Ercole decided to take Josquin over Isaac which one of Josquin’s most famous works became a result of, Psalm 50, Miserere mei. In 1504, Josquin left Ferrara no one has a clear reason on why but many scholars think it was to escape the plague. He chose to retire to the church of Notre Dame at Condé-sur-Escaut and this is where he remained until his death. It can be concluded that he traveled greatly which contributed to his undying fame. It can also be inferred that Josquin was temperamental and moody which can be said about a number of composers. But the chronology of Josquin’s life and career is still being researched. Because there is not enough certainty in the documentation on Josquin already, new information found can change the perception of him and also can bring about questions whether less and less wo
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a period of great change for the European culture, literature, art, and music. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries combined a rediscovery of ancient learning with new discoveries and innovations to produce a flowering of culture and the arts that became known as the Renaissance. The Renaissance is French for rebirth. To some, it appeared that the arts had been reborn after a period of lack of progress. Soon historians were using it to designate the historical period after the Middle Ages.
Responding to a growing interest in pleasing the senses, musicians developed a new kind of counterpoint, featuring strict control of dissonances and pervasive use of sweet sounding sonorities. They devised new methods for writing polyphonic music that included greater equality between voices, more varied textures featuring imitation or homophony, and new ways of reworking borrowed material. Composers of vocal music endeavored to reflect in their melodies the accents, inflections, rhythms, and meanings of the words. Reading Ancient Greek texts that inscribed music as a part of education, that expected every citizen to sing and play music, and that described the power of music of their times. The invention of music printing in the early sixteenth century made written music more widely accessible and created a market for music that amateurs could sing or play for their own entertainment, alone, or social activity. The demand stimulated new kinds of secular song and a great increase in instrumental music. Not least important, growing interest in the individual artist brought a new prominence to composers.
In 1538, Martin Luther proclaimed that “Josquin is the master of notes. They must do as he wills; as for the other composers, they have to do as the notes will.” A generation after his death, writers praised his music for expressing emotions. Scholars even compared him to Virgil and Michelangelo as an artist without peer in his art. Such praise reflects not only on Josquin but on his time. It shows the significantly increased interest during the renaissance in the individual artist and in the power of music to express feelings and ideas.
On May 25, 1498, Ottaviano dei Petrucci was granted a license from the Republic of Venice of an exclusive twenty year monopoly of the printing and selling of polyphonic music as well as organ and lute tablatures; this is how Petrucci became the first printer of polyphonic music. It can be implied that Petrucci was a fan of Josquin because he published three books of Josquin’s masses and reprinted each to satisfy the demand for them; no other composer received more than a single volume from Petrucci. Music printing had a major effect on the spread of music. Printed copies of music were able to reach a vastly wider audience than any manuscript could. Printed made it possible for repertories to travel more widely and quickly than ever before leading to an exchange of styles and genres. Thanks to Petrucci, he made Josquin and his contemporaries’ popular commodities.
Josquin’s motet compositional style includes, use of text-painting; use of homophony and imitation; contrapuntal and clear text declamation. Josquin’s motets exemplify the diversity of his style. Like chansons and masses, motets could be based on borrowed material or newly composed, and many of the same techniques appear in all three genres, from imitation and homophony to cantus firmus and paraphrase.
Much of Josquin’s post-mortem fame can be attributed to the appearance of a large number of his motets in German anthropologies produced between the late 1530s and the early 1560s. It is through these collections that his motets spread to Protestant audiences in northern and central Germany, as well as to Eastern Europe. Unlike the Italian prints containing Josquin’s motets, the German collections contain drawn-out memorial and introductory letters, providing insights into the thoughts, attitudes, and goals of the editors and publishers. These introductory materials, along with other knowledge about the interests of the people who contributed to the collections, help us to better understand why Josquin’s motets occupy such an important place in the volumes.
The motets prove to be an ideal route for exploring the sixteenth-century interest in this Josquin for a number of reasons. One is that these works account for more than fifty percent of his authentic output, reflecting a new interest in the genre that would remain in place throughout the sixteenth century. Josquin’s blend of expressive and constructivist devices in a number of motets kept them fashionable despite their age. The second thing is that there is a large amount of sources for Josquin’s motets, of works influenced by Josquin’s motets, and of post-mortem subjective commentary concerning his motets. The third this is that compared to the chansons and masses, the motets received more continuous attention over the course of the century. This is most readily observed in the publication history of the works in each of the genres.
Information concerning Josquin’s reception is not limited to post-mortem sources. A certain number of manuscripts and printed editions prepared during his lifetime document the early distribution of his music. Some printed editions prepared towards the very end of Josquin’s life lend insights into the growing awareness of the importance of him and his music to the history and development of the discipline.
Still, the highest concentration of sources, printed and manuscript, musical and verbal, originated in Germany in the second three decades of the sixteenth century. A number of manuscripts prepared at the end of the sixteenth century in regions far from Josquin’s places of employment, such as Spain and Bohemia, clearly indicated that interest in Josquin’s motets continued for some 80 years after his death. After placing the sources of Josquin’s reception in their historical context, a number of themes emerged that lend insights into why this composerss above all other predecessors and contemporaries, garnered such extensive post-mortem attention.
The German prints produced betweened 1537 and 1545 served as the principal means by which Josquin’s motets remained alive and spread throughout German speaking regions and other regions of Europe. Many attributed works in those volumes do not appear in sources during the life of Josquin or in sources from any of the regions where he was employed. Some of these works only survive in German sources. Many scholars today have approached these works skeptically because they survive in sources that are chronologically and geographically distant from Josquin and the popularity of Josquin during this era was so great that editors may have been too anxious to print out anything with Josquin’s name on it.
Post-mortem Fame
Josquin’s reputation and music endured for nearly a century after his death because his followers took note of, and admired, aspects of his individual compositional style, particularly his blend of constructiveness and text-expressive devices. The beginning of printing fueled interest in his music by making it available to a widespread audience; the reprinting of his music also helped to withstand this responsiveness long after his death. The increase of sources, made possible by the development of printing, provides a record of the post-mortem interest in the music of Josquin. If Dufay’s or Machaut’s music achieved a similar level of post-mortem attention as did Josquin’s, we would not know because evidence of it does not survive. We can discuss the post-mortem reception of Josquin because of the very fact that there is evidence of it. This post-mortem interest came about, in part, because his followers appreciated his music, particularly his motets, as autonomous works. Some scholars of Renaissance music have explored questions of reception in this era, particularly as it concerns Josquin.
Composers from Josquin’s time through the late sixteenth century emulated and reworked his music. Some works were recopied, published, and performed for almost a century after his death, a rare honor at a time where most music more than a few decades old was unavailable or deemed unworthy of performance. His music was so valued and popular that publishers and copyists often attributed works of other composers to him, which encouraged one man to comment that “now Josquin is dead, he is putting out more works than when he was alive.”
As the first major composer whose repertory continued to be copied, printed, studied, and emulated long after his death, Josquin des Prez occupies a unique place in music history. Josquin is a composer whose music has a component of compositional display that beats the functional purpose of the repertory. Similar qualities can also be found in sacred works of other composers who were revered before the era of common practice, including Josquin’s predecessors such as Machaut and Dufay. Yet these composers do not appear to have gathered the same level of post-mortem attention that Josquin appears to have. Josquin transpires as a special case in the history of western music.
One piece of music that is misattributed to Josquin is Une mousse de Biscaye. Missa Une mousse de Biscaye is said to have a “lack of clarity and consistency”, “crudities of part-writing and dissonance treatment”, “unsystematic, rather loose motivic interplay between the voices”, and “lack of structure”. This mass was copied under Josquin’s name in Germany in1496. The mass was distributed throughout Europe in many of copies printed by Petrucci in 1505.

Works Cited
Atlas, Allan W. Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400-1600. New York, New York: Norton, 1998. 729.

Burkholder, J. Peter. A History of Western Music. Ninth ed. New York, New York: Norton, 2014. 1009.

Fallows, David. Josquin. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. 522.

Harman, Alec, and Anthony Milner. Man and His Music; the Story of Musical Experience in the West. 1969 ed. Vol. I. New York, New York: Schocken Books, 1962. 245.

Sherr, Richard, ed. The Josquin Companion. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 691.

Sparks, Edgar H. Cantus Firmus in Mass and Motet, 1420-1520. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1963. 504.

[ 1 ]. Atlas, Allan W. Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400-1600. New York, New York: Norton, 1998. 729. PG. 257
[ 2 ]. Fallows, David. Josquin. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. 522. PG 10
[ 3 ]. Atlas, Allan W. Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400-1600. New York, New York: Norton, 1998. 729.
PG 255
[ 4 ]. Sherr, Richard, ed. The Josquin Companion. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 691.

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