Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.
Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.
Biographical and musicological certainties may be in short supply in the life and work of Josquin, but there’s no gainsaying the magnificence of the music recorded here: a programme of shorter works, most in unusual guise, to celebrate his 500th anniversary.
It is now believed that our composer was an altarboy at the collegiate church of Saint Géry, Cambrai, until 1466, and thus born in the early 1450s. (At his death in 1521, therefore, Josquin would have been around seventy years old: a good age for the time, and more plausible than the lifespan of over eighty years required by his now-debunked identification with an adult singer in Milan from 1459.) We have no documentation between 1466 and 1475, when Josquin appears at the court of ‘Good King’ René of Anjou: Fallows suggests that he may well have spent these years as ‘an itinerant petit vicaire’—a jobbing singer.
Following René of Anjou’s death in 1480, Josquin seems to have found his way into the service of Louis XI of France, perhaps as part of a group of René’s singers hired by the king. He is reported to have acquired a benefice in royal territory around this time, namely Saint-Aubin in the diocese of Bourges, which would seem unlikely for a musician from Hainault if he had no connections at court. Following Louis XI’s death and Josquin’s receipt of his uncle and aunt’s inheritance, both in 1483, the composer is next found in Italy the following year, as a member of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza’s household in Milan. It is possible (though by no means universally accepted) that he spent time in Hungary at the court of Matthias Corvinus (reigned 1458-1490) during the late 1480s; in early 1489 he was back in Milan, before joining the papal choir in June of that year. Unfortunately, the payment registers of the papal chapel are lost between April 1494 (when Josquin was still present) and November 1500 (when he wasn’t). He is known to have been in Cambrai in August 1494, though, and to have been given a quantity of wine while there. The visit may have been part of an attempt to secure a canonry at his (probable) childhood church of Saint Géry, though if so, this was not successful; he did however become a canon of Saint-Quentin, twenty-five miles further south, by 1503.
As Fallows notes, there are ‘pitifully few’ documents relating to the the period between 1495 and 1503: Josquin may have been in Cambrai until 1498; associated with the French court under Louis XII (‘sporadically’) in 1498-1500; and perhaps he visited Spain with the Habsburg-Burgundian court of Philip the Fair (1478-1506) in 1501-03. (Richard Sherr’s entertaining Music & Letters review of Fallows’s book offers a useful caveat on the Spanish and Hungarian hypotheses.) From 1503 we are at last on biographical terra firma: Josquin spent a year at the court of Ferrara, 1503-04, before returning north to take up the provostship of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame in Condé-sur-l’Escaut, dying there on 27 August 1521. He was buried in front of the church’s high altar.
Few questions in musicology have generated as much heat over the past fifty years as that of the authenticity of works attributed to Josquin. The proceedings of the 450th-anniversary festival-conference, held in New York in 1971, include two essays on the issue, and in 1986 a further conference in Utrecht was devoted more or less entirely to questions of attribution, examining in particular depth works ascribed to other composers (Verdelot, Brumel, La Rue and Mouton) as well as Josquin. Even by 1971 it was widely acknowledged that the first collected edition, the Werken, produced by Albert Smijers and his pupils at Utrecht between 1929 and 1969, contained a considerable number of pieces whose attributions really did not hold water—though it already excluded many other opera dubia. The 1986 conference was a preliminary to the publication of a New Josquin Edition (hereinafter NJE), which began to emerge in 1989 and is now complete in thirty volumes: the proceedings of that conference are perhaps the most visible representation of a process of weeding the worklist that took place throughout the 1970s and ’80s. In those proceedings, Joshua Rifkin articulated a fundamental problem in Josquin studies: ‘I wish to question whether we even have anything that … we can properly label a Josquin canon.’ The debate has continued without any apparent resolution in sight; of the more recent developments I shall mention only Rob C Wegman’s passionate plea that the baby not be thrown out with the bathwater (‘The Other Josquin’, in the Dutch musicology journal TVNM, 2008), and its rebuttal by NJE board member Eric Jas (‘What Other Josquin?’ in Early Music History, 2014).
It is not possible to go further into the authenticity debate here, though in discussing individual pieces below I shall attempt to give some idea of where the land lies. The NJE now offers, through its use of an asterisk to designate dubious works and two asterisks for spurious ones, an indication, of sorts, of what the scholarly community believes about a given work; but in truth any claim to consensus is specious, as will become clear. All ten of the works presented here are (in their original versions) asterisk-free in the NJE, even if in at least two cases we have included material by other hands. Hence the title of this recording: ‘Josquin des Prez: Motets and Mass movements’, rather than ‘Josquin des Prez et al.’ or ‘Probably Josquin, for the most part’.
We begin with the Annunciation sequence Mittit ad virginem (NJE 24.6), most likely an early work of Josquin, though some doubt has recently been cast on its attribution due to the existence of a handwritten attribution to ‘Petrus’ (usually known by the diminutive Pierrequin) de Thérache (c1470-1528) in the copy of the Petrucci print Motetti C owned by Heinrich Glarean (1488-1563). Glarean’s famous treatise Dodecachordon (Basel, 1547) was instrumental in establishing Josquin’s reputation as the greatest Renaissance composer, hence if Glarean believed that Mittit ad virginem was not authentic, its place in the canon would be significantly undermined. It is interesting to note in this context that Thérache’s motet Verbum bonum et suave, found in the Medici Codex (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, MS Acquisti e doni 666), begins in exactly the same way as the present work. Mittit ad virginem is a charming piece, suffused with the plainsong melody and (as the late Ludwig Finscher observed) presenting many differing compositional techniques, in the service of the fifteenth-century ideal of varietas. The prima pars is in duple time, though the sequence melody, found in the soprano for the most part, preserves the alternation of breves and semibreves which would have characterized a rhythmicized performance of the plainchant. The secunda pars opens with a lively upper-voice duet in triple time, which reverts to duple for a contrasting trio section. A different triple mensuration (with the semibreve rather than the breve as the triple value) brings the first full texture of the pars, before a final reversion to duple at ‘Qui nos salvet’, the closing doxology with which Josquin (or conceivably Thérache) replaces the last two stanzas of the sequence.
Alma redemptoris mater / Ave regina caelorum (23.2) represents a rare style of composition in which two plainsong melodies are elaborated simultaneously across a four-voice texture—‘a technical tour-de-force’, as described by Finscher. (This technique was no doubt influential on later composers, including Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560) and Jean Maillard (c1515-after 1570) who were each to combine no fewer than four plainsongs in one motet.) The soprano and bass voices mostly sing the Alma redemptoris melody, beginning with its distinctive rising fifth, and the alto and tenor have the Ave regina material. The opening references the earlier setting of Alma redemptoris by Johannes Ockeghem (c1410-1497), though Fallows considers the piece as a whole more reminiscent of Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474), in particular Du Fay’s late setting of Ave regina. Now that Josquin is generally believed to have been in Cambrai in the mid-1460s, an association with Du Fay (who spent much of his life there, including his final years) makes excellent sense.
Of the following three large-scale motets in six-voice versions, two represent the so-called si placet tradition, with one or two voices added by a later musician to a four- or five-voice original. Huc me sydereo (21.5) is one of the most intriguing, as well as impressive, works in the canon. Its strength derives to a considerable degree from the quality of its poetry, the work of Maffeo Vegio (1407-1458), a distinguished humanist who among other achievements composed a thirteenth book to supplement Vergil’s Aeneid, which has circulated widely ever since. The poem, written in elegiac couplets, mixes Classical references into a meditation on the Passion; in the outer eight lines, Christ addresses the world from the cross, whereas the middle four (spanning the divide between the two sections of the motet) take the voice of an external party. Vegio adopts highly charged language to underline the brutality of the cross, which he deploys with great poetic skill: lines such as ‘ille pedes clavis fixit et ille manus’ are both graphic in their imagery and beautifully balanced rhetorically. Josquin’s response to the eloquence of Vegio is emotionally moving as well as technically expert; perhaps the most overtly expressive device is the series of descending scales which set the second half of the poem’s first line: ‘descendere iussit Olympo’ (from 0'48 to 1'31). Initially, the vocal lines compass a fifth, but as the imitative point develops, whole octave descents are heard, and finally the outer voices cover a twelfth, d"-g in the soprano (at notated pitch) and d'-G in the baritone and bass. The voices necessarily reach their highest pitch at the beginning of these phrases, meaning that successive melodic repetitions are intensified by beginning higher each time. The later stages of the piece are mostly characterized by a quiet intensity, with significant use of fauxbourdon technique (chains of first inversion triads, most obvious at ‘frangere iura crucis’, and the two concluding phrases of the halves: ‘verbera tanta pati’ and ‘sat mihi solus amor’). More overt emotion is heard at ‘quem nequeunt durae’, with a rising sequence on ‘durae’, and at the above-mentioned ‘ille pedes’.
The motet is structured around a chant tenor, ‘Plangent eum’ (‘They lament for him’), which is heard three times: once in the prima pars, beginning after twenty-four breves, as the upper voices come in with the third poetic line, ‘Langueo nec quisquam’ (2'06), and twice in the secunda, in ever-shorter note values. Around the tenor are five free voices, though three of the work’s seventeen sources lack the sexta vox, which differs in style from the other four, and is highly virtuosic with a two-octave range. The piece can be, and indeed is more often than not, performed a 5. As ever with Josquin, controversy rages as to the authenticity of this sexta vox, with John Milsom in The Josquin Companion asserting that it is ‘generally rejected as being uncharacteristic of Josquin’s style’, and Jaap van Benthem (in Josquin and the Sublime) stating that it is inauthentic and ‘seriously affects the setting’s subtle counterpoint and its balance of proportions’. Willem Elders, on the other hand (in Josquin Des Prez and his musical legacy), believes that ‘most scholars agree that it stems from the hand of Josquin himself’. Bonnie Blackburn in her NJE edition considers three possibilities: that Josquin added the sexta vox after writing the first five; that someone else wrote it; or that the motet was Josquin’s six-voice conception all along. The fact that two of the sources lacking it (the Brussels and London manuscripts) are among the earliest lends weight to the first hypothesis, though the source situation more generally does not suggest a separate line of transmission of an earlier version a 5. David Fallows makes the best case in its favour: describing the other five voices as constituting ‘a motet of the most polished and classical design’, he suggests that ‘Josquin quickly saw that he needed to throw a diagonal band across the structure … as though he drafted it as a work in five voices and then realised that it was just a touch too anodyne’.
The si placet voice added to Josquin’s well-known and widely circulated Stabat mater (25.9) is the latest music included on this recording, dating from at least the late sixteenth century, and perhaps even the early seventeenth. It is found as a manuscript addition to one of a pair of partbooks (discantus and sexta pars) in the Czech town of Rokycany, bound in with printed music published in 1564 and (in the discantus book) 1586. The text was Protestantized (e.g. ‘Christe verbum’ to begin the secunda pars instead of ‘Eia mater’) and is no doubt derived from the version published in 1559 by Berg and Neuber of Nuremberg. Situated in the soprano range, the extra part contributes further to the brightness of texture that is a noted feature of Josquin’s Stabat mater setting. The original Marian poem (which we have re-instated in the sexta pars to match the other voices) dates from the thirteenth century, though no firm authorship has been established. Rather than using a version of the plainsong sequence melody as a cantus firmus, Josquin structures his motet around the tenor of Comme femme desconfortée, a chanson by Gilles Binchois (c1400-1460), the note values of which he augments quadruply, so that a minim of the original becomes a breve in the motet. The tenor has no rests, and with the augmentation its notes can last up to about twelve seconds (e.g. the fifth tenor note from 0'18 to 0'30). Josquin of course can harmonize these held notes in multiple ways—F, B flat, and d chords, in this instance (capitals denote major chords, lowercase minor)—but nevertheless such a constant and slow-moving presence lends the piece an extraordinary stillness. The only other comparably early polyphonic Stabat mater from Continental Europe—that by Gaspar van Weerbeke (c1445-after 1516), which is found immediately following Josquin’s setting in one of the latter’s earliest sources, the Chigi Codex (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Chigi C VIII 234)—is also a five-voice setting centred on a tenor which is not the sequence melody, namely the Marian plainsong Vidi speciosam sicut columbam (‘I saw her, beautiful as a dove’; modern version in Antiphonale monasticum, iii, 290). Weerbeke’s tenor is heard for only about half of the piece’s duration, however, entering well after the free voices in the normal manner for a tenor motet. As Fallows notes, Josquin’s consistently full texture must therefore be seen as an initial compositional decision; and Milsom observes that ‘the simplicity, solemnity, “whiteness” of the music is startling, and strikingly appropriate for the context’. Fallows dates the piece conjecturally to 1495-1500, and Barbara Haggh-Huglo has proposed that it may have been written for the Office of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, since it is found in a Brussels manuscript (Bibliothèque royale, MS 215-6, copied in the same scriptorium as the Chigi Codex) alongside plainchant newly composed for that occasion.
The six-voice version of O bone et dulcissime Jesu (21.9) is found in a manuscript in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, dating probably from the 1550s and containing half a dozen pieces from the beginning of the century with voices added. Clearly the two additional voices are not Josquin’s work; some doubt has also been cast on the original four-voice version. In The Josquin Companion, Ludwig Finscher relegated no fewer than twenty-six four-voice motets to a footnote in which he described them as ‘doubtful, to varying degrees, or spurious … judging primarily from the source situation and only secondarily for stylistic reasons’. Patrick Macey, however, has suggested that O bone et dulcissime Jesu may indeed be Josquin’s work, conceived during his time at the court of René of Anjou, in the late 1470s. The basis of this proposal is that the motet text is similar to a prayer of Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444), deriving originally from a meditation of Saint Anselm (1033/4-1109). Bernardino had been René’s personal confessor during the latter’s short possession of the Kingdom of Naples (1438-1442), and René was a strong supporter of Bernardino’s canonization in 1450. Though attractive, especially given the difficulty of associating almost any of Josquin’s works with specific occasions (or often even to the nearest decade), this argument falters on the rather tenuous resemblance of Bernardino’s prayer as transmitted in many Books of Hours to the actual text of the motet. Certain other stylistic objections to Josquin’s authorship have been raised, such as the prevalence of imitation at the fourth and fifth—a rare though not unknown procedure as early as the 1470s—but none is conclusive. The four-voice original thus remains part of the official canon; with the addition of the two posthumous voices it becomes a very different and much more sumptuous work. In fact, the expansion to a six-part texture removes one of the generally accepted elements of Josquin’s style, namely its sparsity. The original features many sections of two-part writing, and is noteworthy for the extent to which these are not dovetailed as later became common, such that the phrases often feel quite discrete. Though the writer of the extra voices does not remove this sense altogether, it is in the nature of such textural expansion that the voices do overlap more than in the original; and in general the piece is far more mellifluous, particularly since so many of the chords now contain thirds where previously they did not, as well as there being more opportunity for expressive dissonance. The work is firmly rooted in D Dorian tonality, but one harmonic twist is especially noticeable: where the text discusses the possibility that the writer may be damned (track 10, from 1'41 to 1'52) the chord sequence d-a-G-F-d-g-E flat-d-B flat-E flat-B flat is heard, before a serene rising phrase returns us to the region of A minor, where in fact the piece ends.
Domine, ne in furore tuo … miserere (16.7), set to the text of Psalm 6, is more in need of the disambiguation given by its NJE number than most, since Josquin set the equally penitential Psalm 37 (NJE 16.6), which begins with the same text. Although both of these works are accepted by Helmuth Osthoff (in Josquin Desprez) and Jeremy Noble (in the 1980 New Grove) as well as the NJE editors, Finscher discarded the Psalm 6 setting in the footnote mentioned above, and New Grove II also considers it dubious (‘?later’). It is certainly the case that there is a whiff of the 1530s about its harmony and text-setting, though there are also many Josquinian aspects. Wolfgang Fuhrmann (in Josquin and the Sublime) aptly describes it as among ‘the more impressive Josquinesque motets’: if it is the work of an imitator, it is a highly skilled one. Elders draws attention to the ‘wailing 6/3 chords’ which illustrate the final words of the prima pars—‘with my tears I will wet my blanket’—and to the winding-up of tension at ‘quoniam exaudivit’ (‘for the Lord has heard the voice of my lament’) in the secunda. One final expressive moment that should be mentioned is the setting of the last words of the piece, ‘valde velociter’, to rapid semiminims: although this seems highly apposite, the syllabic underlay is present only in later sources (including the 1553 print used here), and the NJE editor (Martin Picker) believed it to be inauthentic—or, perhaps one should say, even more inauthentic than the rest of the piece.
Usquequo, Domine, oblivisceris me? (18.12) is a highly affective motet, setting the anguished text of Psalm 12. The opening features duet texture, though without the strict upper/lower repetition that characterizes the technique in its pure form. At ‘oblivisceris me’ there is fauxbourdon-writing, leading into a strongly cadential climax for ‘in finem’. The remainder of the prima pars is rather sectional, with each verse receiving its own imitative point, though the textual repetition of ‘usquequo’ is reflected musically. The first half ends with a strong rising sequence at ‘Respice et exaudi me, Domine’. In the secunda pars, following a short opening section in full texture (‘Illumina oculos meos’: ‘Lighten my eyes’), there are two duets—between alto and bass, and soprano and tenor respectively. The version recorded here is that of the 1553 print that is our principal source (all of the sources of Usquequo, Domine are posthumous): in editing the motet for the NJE, Leeman Perkins amends these duets by delaying the upper voice of each by a minim and shortening the second syllable of ‘obdormiam’. While this would certainly be regarded as an improvement by a counterpoint teacher, it is entirely conjectural; as usual with Josquin, this relatively minor change (along with a few others that Perkins also makes) has a bearing on the attribution question. Compared with the preceding piece, Usquequo has a somewhat stronger claim to authenticity: scholars appear genuinely unsure whether it truly comes from Josquin’s hand. In amending certain details, Perkins observes that some of the doubt over the motet’s authorship arises from the less-than-ideal state of some of its counterpoint. And if one removes most of the elements that don’t sound like Josquin, what remains is indeed more Josquinian. The NJE, then, presents a work that seems to belong more securely to the canon, but one for whose existence there is no positive evidence at all. A final aspect of the motet that is noteworthy both from a musical perspective and for its relation to the canon question is that it concludes with a seventeen-bar direct repetition of the opening material. In Josquin’s motet Memor esto verbi tui (NJE 17.14), the opening also returns, but at double speed, magnifying the urgency of the request, ‘remember your word to your servant, Lord’. According to Glarean, Memor esto was written as a reminder of a benefice promised by Louis XII of France (r1498-1515, but the story is more likely about Louis XI). The straight repetition in Usquequo, Domine, with its similar sentiment to Memor esto, might thus be an earlier instance of Josquin’s formal planning, which he refined in the later piece for Louis; or it might be the work of a later imitator, feeling perhaps that the text at hand did not lend itself to acceleration.
Homo quidam fecit coenam magnam (19.4) is a slightly unusual piece in formal terms, being a setting of an Office responsory for Corpus Christi, which, in The Anne Boleyn music book (London, Royal College of Music, MS 1070), does not observe the standard responsory structure ABCB, whereby the last section of the prima pars is repeated after a shorter but inconclusive secunda pars. Instead the source has an ‘Amen’ to close the secunda pars, and thus is clearly intended to conclude at this point. It also transposes up an octave some low-lying phrases of the soprano part as compared with the other sources (most obviously Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Cappella Sistina 42, in which the responsory form is observed). Since the London version has apparently not previously been recorded, and is more suitable for the Brabant Ensemble forces, we have chosen to present this reading. The motet features a chant-based tenor part, in canon at the interval of the fourth below in the prima pars, but at the unison in the secunda. The canonic distance is just one breve, the same as the canon of the tertia pars in Josquin’s famous Inviolata a 5. John Milsom, writing in The Josquin Companion of 2000, did not then believe the work genuine, describing the free voices as ‘largely curt or repetitive … and rhythmically nervous in a manner that suggests instrumental music rather than motet style’. By 2009, however (in Josquin and the Sublime), Milsom had changed his view, describing the Vatican source mentioned above as authoritative in its attribution, and supporting its authorship analytically. The piece is in any case an attractive setting of the parable of the invitation to the feast (Luke 14), which in the secunda pars is made to sound rather riotous, with the basses (not surprisingly) enjoying the wine at length (‘et bibite’, track 16, 0'46 to 0'59).
The final two pieces on this recording are free-standing Mass movements, both published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1505 in the intriguing print Fragmenta missarum (RISM 1505 1). Whereas polyphonic settings of individual movements (and pairs) had been more common than complete cycles in the earlier part of the fifteenth century, the cyclic Mass had stabilized in content, becoming the dominant genre by the beginning of Josquin’s career; his compositional contribution to it—building on the work of Du Fay, Ockeghem and others—constitutes a major part of his legacy. The few individual movements that survive with attributions to Josquin have been comparatively neglected, though they shed an interesting light on (presumably) his earlier years.
The Gloria de beata virgine (13.7) inhabits a very different sound-world from most of the motets discussed above. Its textures are fifteenth-century, with the two middle voices occupying exactly the same range (as a rule, altus parts gradually drifted higher during the sixteenth century, to about a tone above the tenor by the end of Josquin’s life, and a third by the time of Lassus and Palestrina); and the text is troped, carrying additional Marian material that ceased to be permitted in liturgical books produced after the Council of Trent. The first half is in perfect tempus, and the tonality feels quite unstable, with the predominantly G Mixolydian tonal space disrupted by frequent B and E flats in the first minute. A striking feature of the prima pars is the first Marian trope section, ‘Spiritus et alme orphanorum Paraclite’ (‘Holy Spirit, nourishing orphans’), which is a duet between soprano and alto (from 2'40), in a proportional notation indicating double speed. Although the lower voices do not participate in this short but lively subsection, they then re-enter (‘Domine Deus’ at 2'56) with the tenor in major prolation (equivalent to 6/8 time), producing a series of hemiolas against the bass—though both voices are so extensively syncopated up to 3'15 that the underlying tactus is heavily obscured. In the secunda pars the sections of troped text are again demarcated from the ‘official’ Gloria text, though here by means of chordal statements with fermatas. These contrast with increasingly boisterous sections of the main text, with extensive use of trio and duet textures, and triple time at ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ (3'04), before the final ‘Amen’ (3'29) reverts to duple time but uses a syncopated rising sequence to build energy into the final cadence.
The Sanctus de Passione (13.9) is described as ‘unpretentious’ by Elders but is generally considered authentic, not least because the central section, ‘Honor et benedictio’, is also found as part of Josquin’s motet Qui velatus facie fuisti, published by Petrucci two years previously (in Motetti B: RISM 1503 1). In the context of the Sanctus, this twenty-eight-bar chordal interpolation between Sanctus and Benedictus is to be understood as an Elevation motet: the scholarly consensus is that either it or the Benedictus would have been performed liturgically, but not both. For the purposes of a recording, however, it makes sense to sing all the music printed in Fragmenta missarum: liturgical purists are of course at liberty to skip one or other of the two tracks. The ‘Pleni’ and ‘Benedictus’ duet verses are identical except for octave transposition.
Stephen Rice © 2021