I shall now relate what I have heard said many times about the most excellent Adrian Willaert, namely, that a motet for six voices, Verbum bonum et suave, sung under the name of Josquin in the Papal Chapel in Rome almost every feast of Our Lady, was considered one of the most beautiful compositions sung in those days. When Willaert came from Flanders to Rome at the time of Leo X and found himself at the place where this motet was being sung, he saw that it was ascribed to Josquin. When he said that it was his own, as it really was, so great was the malignity or (to put it more mildly) the ignorance of the singers, that they never wanted to sing it again.
Different things can be said about this story, which was long thought to be apocryphal. What is of course most striking, is the claim that Willaert’s six-voice motet went under the name of Josquin des Prez, the princeps musicorum of his time. Needless to say, this serves to underline the extraordinary quality of the piece, which was first printed in Ottaviano Petrucci’s collection Motetti de la corona (Fossombrone, 1519). Verbum bonum et suave contains a canon between Tenor and Quintus, the melody of which is based on the eponymous plainchant. The motet displays a dense texture that is only interrupted at the beginning of the secunda pars: on ‘Ave, solem genuisti’ (the fourth strophe of the Marian hymn) a duet of upper voices is imitated by the lowest ones. The sudden reduction of the voices, the characteristic rising fourth on ‘Ave’ and the general layout of the melody make one wonder whether this passage was meant as a subtle musical and textual reference to Josquin’s Ave Maria … virgo serena, one of the composer’s most popular and best-known pieces.
from notes by Katelijne Schiltz © 2010