In This Article Josquin des Prez

  • Introduction
  • Biographies and Overviews
  • Studies That Significantly Revised Josquin’s Biography
  • Guides to Research
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Histories of Renaissance Music
  • Sources
  • Other Sacred Works
  • Italian Pieces and Secular Motets
  • Problems: Character and Posthumous Reputation

Music Josquin des Prez
by
Richard Sherr
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0194

Introduction

Josquin Lebloitte dit des Prez (b. c. 1450–d. 27 August 1521), known as Josquin des Prez or Josquin, was born in the French-language area of Flanders, what is now northeastern France and Belgium, possibly in the village of St-Sauveur, but his strongest connection was to the city of Condé-sur-L’Escaut, where he inherited considerable property from relatives in the 1480s and where he moved permanently in his last years as canon and provost of the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame. His known career (there are significant gaps in our knowledge of his career) follows the trajectory of other singers of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, taking him away from his home area for many years with significant stays in Italy, returning for his final years to the area of his birth. Also in common with his contemporaries, his official employment was always as a singer, even though his talents as a composer were well known, particularly to Ercole d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, who clearly hired him in 1503 because of his compositional talents. Josquin’s preeminence in his own time is attested by contemporary accounts and also by the transmission of his music, which exists in more manuscript and printed sources than for any other composer of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A modern biographer (Fallows 2009, cited under Biographies and Overviews) even declares that Josquin was “world famous” in his lifetime. And he was arguably the first composer whose fame outlasted his lifetime (see chapter 5 of Elders 2013, cited under Guides to Research). He is usually credited with having initiated the major stylistic characteristic of the music of the 16th century: syntactic imitation and extreme sensitivity to the text (see Histories of Renaissance Music). Josquin was thus by all accounts the greatest composer of his generation, and the most important, innovative, and influential composer of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. As recently as the 1990s, no one would have disagreed with that statement. However, in the early 21st century, things are not so certain. For one thing, there is no agreement on exactly what it is in Josquin’s music that makes it so great (see Analytical Approaches). There is no agreement about exactly how many compositions he actually produced (see Music). There is no longer agreement about his reputation then and now (see Taruskin 2005, cited under Histories of Renaissance Music, and Problems: Character and Posthumous Reputation). Josquin’s luster is now slightly diminished, yet in spite of that, on the evidence of his best works, he remains one of the towering figures in the history of music.

Biographies and Overviews

Josquin was not the subject of a monographic biography until the 1960s when Helmuth Osthoff published his classic two-volume study of Josquin’s life and works (Osthoff 1962–1965). It is still consulted for the documents it presents and for Osthoff’s discussions of almost all the music attributed to Josquin. Osthoff’s statements about authenticity and chronology are often mentioned in later studies, if only to refute them. No biography approached Osthoff in depth and detail until Fallows 2009, which is the most comprehensive treatment of the composer in English. Fiore 2003 and Barbier 2010 provide shorter biographies in Italian and French. The article on Josquin in Grove 6 (1980) published separately in a revised form (Reese and Noble 1984) is still worth consulting for its discussion of the music. Grove Music Online gives the most direct access to the most recent information about the composer and his music. Sherr 2000 is a collaborative volume with individual chapters covering all aspects of Josquin’s life and works.

  • Barbier, Jacques. Josquin Desprez. Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance. Tours, France: Bleu nuit éditeur, 2010.

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    In French. Biographical chapter shows awareness of research up to 2009 but is also inaccurate in some details. Brief discussions of masses, motets, and chansons attributed to Josquin. Discussion of Josquin’s influence on other composers. Works list and short annotated bibliography. 286 pp.

  • Fallows, David. Josquin. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009.

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    The best, most up-to-date, and most insightful study of Josquin’s biography and major compositions in English. Does not discuss all of Josquin’s works but is full of illuminating observations about the music. Presents and defends controversial views on certain aspects of biography and the chronology of certain works. Useful appendices. Extensive bibliography organized chronologically. 522 pp.

  • Fiore, Carlo. Josquin des Prez. Constellatio Musica 10. Palermo, Italy: L’Epos, 2003.

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    In Italian. Short introduction to Josquin’s biography and works. Biographical chapter takes research after 1990 into account. Chapters on masses, motets, and secular compositions are very selective. Final chapter on Josquin reception from the 16th century to the early 21st. Works list and short bibliography. 203 pp.

  • Macey, Patrick, et al. “Josquin des Prez.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.

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    Up-to-date biography, overview of the music; works list; bibliography. Available online by subscription.

  • Osthoff, Helmuth. Josquin Desprez. 2 vols. Tutzing, Germany: Hans Schneider, 1962–1965.

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    In German. The first and still the most complete detailed study by one author of Josquin’s life and works. Worth consulting even though the biography is out of date and a number of Osthoff’s conclusions about the authenticity of certain works have been challenged. Transcriptions of documents and discussions of individual works (every work in the works list is discussed or at least mentioned in the text). Vol. 1 (biography, masses and mass sections, music example), 243 pp.; vol. 2 (Magnificats, hymns, motets, secular works, works list, indices, music examples), 402 pp.

  • Reese, Gustave, and Jeremy Noble. “Josquin Desprez.” In The New Grove High Renaissance Masters. Edited by Gustave Reese, 1–90. New York: Norton, 1984.

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    Entry in Grove 6 (1980) revised. Biography is out of date. Valuable for Noble’s discussion of the works, the first overview of the music since Osthoff 1962–1965. Works list (Noble); bibliography (Reese).

  • Sherr, Richard, ed. The Josquin Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    E-mail Citation »

    Collaborative multi-author volume. Chronology. Chapters on all musical genres as well as discussion of techniques of analysis and symbolism in Josquin’s music. Annotated discography of CDs containing Josquin’s music. Works list. Bibliography. Includes CD with eight examples of works discussed in the text. 691 pp.

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