A Perfected Art: Church Polyphony in the Late Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
- Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450 – 1521) was a legend in his time and reemerged once again when he
was discovered by modern historians
- This is where we start to see a high appreciation of individualism
- Other humanistic celebrations of individualism of the great visual artist of this time are
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), Michalangelo (1475 – 1564)
- Josquin’s music was often interpreted as personally expressive and communicative
- Henricus Glareanus declared Josquin as the creator of ars perfecta: a “perfected art” that could
never be improved, “to which nothing can be added, after which nothing but decline is to be
expected.” That is exactly the definition of a classic.
- 1484 Josquin arrives at the Milanese court, 1489 he sings for the pope then. In the 5 years
numerous famous artist and people go through Milan
- King Rene is the order of the Croissant
Poet Born, Not Made
- By the time of his death music was categorized more with the arts apart from with arithmetic,
geometry, and astronomy
- Humanism is an ideal of the Renaissance, this is what helped that transfer
- Genius is something more than the music; it is the emotional aspect to move its hearers. The
idea is pre-Christian, recovered from the ancients
- Roman poet Horace: “a poet is born not made”. Josquin was a born composer in this new sense
- The treatise Dodecachordon by Glareanus contains the recognition of four additional modes
beyond the eight established earlier. Glareanus illustrated all twelve modes by citing works of
- Glareanus made Josquin the great Renaissance composer
- Born in northeast region of France, Picardy.
- He served the King of Sicily and Duke of Anjou in 1475 and 1484 he entered the service of
Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, a Milanese aristocrat and churchman
- In 1489 he joined the papal chapel choir in Rome
- Petrucci’s initial publication in 1501 contained six carmina (instrumental pieces based on or in
the style of a song) attributed to Josquin.
- In 1502 Petrucci published Liber primus missarum Josquin, The First Book of Masses by Josquin)
- In 1502 Josquin was music director for the Duke of Ferrara
- There is a style called soggetto cavato dale vocali , “theme carved out of the vowels” , the last
kind of mass technique used in mass construction –extension of the cantus firmus technique
- Josquin died about around the age of 70 in 1521
- Josquin example in text: matched psalminization syllables to the mass phrases A Model Masterpiece
- “Ave Maria … Virgo serena” is Josquins most famous exemplary motet and is a supreme
masterpiece from the 16 CE th
- The text contains three different liturgical items: a central votive antiphon to the Blessed Virgin
Mary, a quatrain that quotes both words and music of Gregorian sequence for the Feast of
Annunciation and a closing couplet that voices a common prayer formula of the day.
- Josquin’s music is shaped closely around the words, there are three levels to this: declamation,
syntax (the ways in which various parts of the text and those of music relate to each other and
to the whole ), textual illustration (the ways the music can be made to parallel or underscore the
meaning of the words)
- “Missa super Ave Maria, Kyrie” by Antoine de Fevin is an imitative mass of “Ave Maria … Virgo
serena” by Josquin
- This is a polyphonic reworking that has to adopt the whole polyphonic texture as its model
- A mass in this imitative style is called “Missa ad imitationem” Imitation Masses
Facts and Myths
- Josquin’s treatment of texture implied not only a new technique but a whole new philosophy of
composition, in which each part was free to play whatever role a composer might wish to assign
- The pervading imitation exemplified in “Ave Maria” did “emancipate” music or its composer
from the tyranny of the cantus firmus. Imitation and older cantus firmus techniques could
happily coexist, as can be seen in a later work my Josquin, his motet “Benedicta es, coelorum
All Is Known
- 16 CE, the second half, an age of conformity with established excellence had dawned, all was
known, it was a great age for theorist.
- Gioseffo Zarlino had a trestise Le istituationi harmoniche (1558) often translated “Elements of
Harmony” it more emphatically means “The Established Rules of Harmony” in harmony in the
musical sense and wider aesthetic sense.
- Zarlino accepted the triad as a full-fledged consonance and dubbed it the harmony perfetta –
the perfect harmony.
- He made the claim that when the chord was major it was gay and when it was minor it was sad The “Post-Josquin” Generation
- Another perfecting touch that distinguished the “classic” polyphony of the mid-16 CE higher th
genres (Mass and motet) was the codification of dissonance treatment
- Adrian Willaert (ca. 1490-1562) was known as Josquin’s creative grandchild
- The publication of “metrical psalms” in vernacular languages became a virtual craze in the wake
of the Reformation. They were meant for both public worship in the form of singing and home
use, “Clemens non papa” wrote these
- 1556 published book with all 150 Psalms in Dutch in the Protestant faith
- This kind of appropriation, with familiar hymns is called contrafactum (counterfeit) and the
idea is to get everyone singing familiar tunes together as quickly as possible
- Willaert was one of the last Flemings and Frenchmen who had dominated Italian court and
chapel music since the early 15 CE, worked with ars perfecta
- He was chosen to be music director at St. Mark’s church from the 11 C, so he worked in Italy
- The thing that made Willaert a classic was his stylistic moderation and lack of idiosyncrasy. He
achieved a balance, clarity, and refinement identified with perfection while avoiding the density
and conceits associated with some of his contemporaries.
- Willaert was the perfecter of music according to Zarlino, this can be seen in his motet that
parallels “Ave Maria … Virgo serena” by Josquin, “Benedicta es, coelorum regina”.
- Willaert, in contrast with Josquin, wanted to maintain a seamless flow of melody, heard in the
way he migrated, elided, or evaded cadences.
The New Instrumental Music
- Willaert enjoyed enormous celebrity as a teacher. Largely thanks to Willaert, Venice was full of
learned Italian musicians
- By the end of the 16 CE Italy would become the great training center for musicians in the
- An important pupil of Willaert is Jacques Buus (ca. 1500-65), he was the first musician in the
literate tradition to be chiefly concerned with instrumental music.
- Buus’ main contribution came with ricercare (research)
- As Willaerts second organist (organist for one of the groups of the split choir) Buus composed
ricecare for the keyboard in the same “perfected” style of a Willaert motet. His pieces imitated
the contrapuntal consistency of contemporary music Palestrina and the Ecumenical Tradition
- Italian Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (ca. 1525-94) and English William Byrd (1543-1623) were
the outstanding composers of the final generation of musicians who unquestioningly kept the
ars perfecta faith
- Palestrina was the quasi-official musical spokesman of Catholic power when the Church was
being challenged by Reformation movements in Germany. While Byrd was the church’s
clandestine servant, he remained Catholic while his country established the Church of England.
This difference is reflected in their music
- Palestrina was the pope’s composer, a veritable papal institution in his own right. This status
made him the most prolific composer of Masses.
- To do best is what everybody does is the aim of a classicist. Practice makes perfect.
- Palestrina was easily the most historically minded composer we have yet encountered. He
mastered archaic styles as a basis for contemporary composition.
Continuing the Tradition
- Palestrina got some of his influence and was interested in techniques of earlier composers
whose work he discovered in the manuscripts of the Sistine Chapel
- Palestrina to demonstrate his intimate familiarity with the work of Josquin (dead before he was
born) based a Mass on his motet “Benedicta es, coelorum regina”
- More than 30 of Pal