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Pierre de La Rue

born: c1452
died: 20 November 1518
country: Flanders

The career of Pierre de la Rue was a highly distinguished one, though it took a somewhat different form from those of many contemporaries who sought their fortune south of the Alps. From 1492 until 1516 La Rue was the pre-eminent composer at the Habsburg-Burgundian court at Brussels-Mechelen, presided over by Duke Philip ‘the Fair’ of Burgundy, and subsequently by his sister Marguerite of Austria. His position at the court led (eventually) to the award of numerous benefices—the rights to revenues from clerical positions, which could be held plurally and vicariously—such that he died, in 1518, a wealthy man. Although he did not quite achieve the Europe-wide fame of his contemporary Josquin Des Prez, or certainly that later enjoyed by Orlande de Lassus, such renown was not at that time a direct measure of professional success. Both of the latter composers benefited, at least in reputational terms, from the spread of music printing across the Continent; La Rue’s work was printed a dozen times in his lifetime and many more thereafter, but its most numerous sources are manuscripts, notably those of the so-called ‘Alamire’ scriptorium, based at his home institution and in which he is the best-represented composer of all. The ‘Alamire’ manuscripts are by some distance the largest set of illuminated music manuscripts from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, numbering nearly fifty; La Rue’s music appears in thirty-six. (This datum, as well as much else in these notes, is derived from Honey Meconi’s Pierre de la Rue and Musical Life at the Habsburg-Burgundian Court, Oxford, 2003.)

La Rue’s compositional output is focused on the genre of the Mass Ordinary: at least thirty settings survive from the sixteenth century with attributions to him. As is the duty of all musicologists, Meconi divides the œuvre into three chronological periods: before 1506, 1506–16, and after 1516. 1506 is the year when Duke Philip travelled to Spain for a second time to secure the crown of Castile which his wife Juana had inherited in 1504; Philip’s death there at the age of only twenty-eight led to La Rue spending two years in Spain in the service of the distraught widow. He returned to the north in 1508 and remained there until his retirement from the court eight years later, moving to Kortrijk/Courtrai where he died in 1518.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2016


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