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Usquequo, Domine, oblivisceris me?

composer
4vv; NJE 18.12; doubtful attribution
author of text
Psalm 12 (13)

 
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.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2021

Recordings

Josquin: Motets & Mass movements
Studio Master: CDA68321Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Part 1: Usquequo, Domine, oblivisceris me?
Track 13 on CDA68321 [4'18]
Part 2: Illumina oculos meos
Track 14 on CDA68321 [6'02]

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