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Jacobus Vaet

born: c1529
died: 8 January 1567
country: Flanders

Jacobus Vaet would undoubtedly be among the best-known composers of the sixteenth century had he not died at the age of about thirty-seven, in 1567. His musical education was typical of the Low Country singers who dominated European church music in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: he became a chorister at the church of Notre Dame at Koortrijk (Courtrai) in 1543 at the age of thirteen, and when his voice broke in 1546 he was given a scholarship to the University of Leuven (Louvain). By 1550 he was working for the emperor, Charles V, as a tenor, and was a married man. Preferment came rapidly, and he was Kapellmeister to the Archduke Maximilian, Charles’s nephew, at the latest in 1554, when he can have been no older than twenty-five.

Vaet’s compositional output was large considering that his career lasted approximately fifteen years: he is known to have produced nine settings of the Mass (including a Requiem Mass), sixty-six motets plus sundry minor liturgical items, a set of Magnificats, and three French chansons. In the dedication to his motet collection published in 1562, Vaet states that since his other duties left him little time to compose, he had decided to prioritize texts in praise of God Almighty and of the House of Austria. Seventeen of the extant pieces are indeed ‘state motets’ in honour of the Habsburgs; the remainder take the standard texts of the time, such as Psalm fragments, prayers, other Biblical excerpts and liturgical texts. One would suppose that given a normal lifespan (usually about sixty years at that time, though a few individuals are known to have lived into their nineties), Vaet would have composed a similar quantity of music to Jacobus Clemens non Papa (c1510–c1555), who is perhaps the most obvious stylistic influence on him.

He died, however, on 8 January 1567 of unknown causes. The deterioration in his health seems to have been rapid: in 1566 he was well enough to accompany Maximilian onto the battlefield, and his last child was baptized on Christmas Eve, 1566. Since his patron had in the meantime been elevated to the imperial throne as Maximilian II, the post left vacant by Vaet’s death was among the most prestigious in Europe, and it was filled only after sixteen months, by the distinguished composer Philippe de Monte. Several poets wrote elegies to Vaet, one of which was set to music by his fellow Habsburg musician Jacob Regnart, and another suggests in its text that it was intended for musical composition by no less than Orlandus Lassus—though sadly no such setting survives.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2009


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