Josquin Des Prez : Articles

1. Biography
2. Transposition by a Fifth (ficta) as a Solution for Conflicting Signatures
3. Josquin’s Ave Maria: A Game of Solmization and Word Painting
4. At the court of Louis XI
5. Two Textual layers in Josquin 's 'Tu Solus'
6. The Motet-Lament 'Absalon, fili mi'
7. An analysis of Serafino's sonnet to Josquin


Josquin Lebloitte, called (surname) des Prez : A New Biography

by Guy Shaked - Dedicated To Tzipora Tischler (1931-1997)

Keywords: Rene D'anjou, Ercole d'Este, Josquin, Louis XI, Louis XII, Ockeghem, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Ascanio Sforza, Shaked


Through an analysis of the various sources and research dealing with the life and art of Josquin, this new biography demonstrates various connections between the events of Josquin's life and his artistic output. The biography reveals that Josquin, throughout his life, was preoccupied in a search for better payment in exchange for his services to his patrons and this has influenced his artistic output. Furthermore it appears he was not a ready servant of the patron-composer system, which might suggest partially his relative unsuccessfulness to maintain and hold major positions in his lifetime.


Josquin was born probably in France, since just before he died he declared that he was a foreigner in Conde, stating that he was from over the Eau Noire, which formed the southern border between Hainaut and France. The village Prez, which might be the surname origin, is located about seventeen kilometers south of the Eau Noire [1]. Josquin birth date is estimated to the 1450's [2], since it appears that the Josquin mentioned as an adult in the service of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1459 is a different person, for his family name in Latin is Kessalia, and he is the son of Honodius [3]. While Josquin's family name is Lebloitte (nicknamed Desprez) and his parents are Gossard and possibly Jeanne [4].3.

It is possible that in his youth Josquin served in the church of Saint Quentin, first as a choirboy and than as the one in charge of its music, for so mentions Claude He`me`re, however without specifying dates [5]. Josquin may have very well been a student of Ockeghem as was stated by Zarlino [6], and not less than five early works by Josquin refers to those of Ockeghem. These include D'ung aultre amer mass, a Sanctus, the motets Tu solus and Victimae Paschali Laudes, and the double motet Alma Redemptoris mater/Ave Regina Caelorum. Josquin also composed Jean Molinet's poem on Ockeghems death - Nymphes des bois.


Josquin, it appears was in Aix-en-Provence as early as 1475. He served as a singer in the chapel of Rene Duke of Anjou in 1477 [7]. He stayed in the court at least until 26 of March 1478, and perhaps up to the king's death in 1480 [8]. The whereabouts of Josquin the next five years are at this time unknown. It has been suggested that he may also have served at the court of Lois XI who was ill at his chateau Plessis-les-Tours until his death 1482-1483 and wrote for his health the Misricordias Domine [9]. Later in 1483, his name returns as he returned to Conde to claim an inheritance after the death of his uncle and aunt. He was also at this time given an amount of wine by Notre Dame at Conde for his return after the French wars [10].


Josquin is mentioned for the first time in the service of the wealthy Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in 19 of June 1484. At that time Josquin asked for the rectorship of the church of Saint Aubin (Ioschinus de Pratis), and is mentioned as (Iaacobus Despres) a member of the household of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. A document from 19 of August 1484 reveals that he (Joschinus de Prattis), indeed received the rectorship of Saint Aubin [11]. It appears that Josquin traveled with Ascanio to Rome in 1484 [12]. In February 1489 he was in litigation before the French parliament over the benefice of Saint Aubin [13]. It has been suggested that in 2 February 1489 he attended in Milan the celebration of the marriage of Isabella d'Aragona to Giangaleazzo Sforza, and perhaps even wrote Fama Malum for the celebration [14]. There is a sonnet by the poet Serafino dall'Aquila, who was also at the time(1484 - 1490) in the service of Cardinal Ascanio [15], which is dedicates to Josquin : 'Ad Jusquino suo compagno musico d'Ascanio' (to Josquin, the musical companion of Ascanio). Zarlino in the Supplimenti Musicali of 1588 recognized the "Josquino" of the sonnet as Josquin des Prez. The words of the sonnet suggest that Josquin was complaining at the time that the heavens where cruel to him


Josquin is mentioned first in Papal documents as serving there in June 1489 [16]. He served in the papal chapel at least until 1495 (if he served later is unknown for the accounts from 1495 to 1500 were lost). He served first the pope Innocent VII and then Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope. During his work at the Vatican Josquin attempted to gain benefices, those he attempted to receive are Notre Dame (1489), Saint Omer (1489), Saint Ghislain (1489), Basse Yttre and near Frashes in Hainut (1493) and he received the benefice of Saint Gery in Cambrai (1494) [17]. It is from this period that he left the only thing that remained today by his hand - his name engraved on the wall of the choir at the Sistine chapel (see above, below his image) [18].


It seems that at about 1495 Josquin attempted to establish connections with the court of Philip the Fair and the composer Petrus Duwez with the composition of the "Stabat mater" as music on the subject of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. A theme shought after much at Philip's court, at that time [19].


It seems that Josquin served at the end of 1498 Cardinal Ascanio Sforza (perhaps he left papal service, perhaps he served both the cardinal and in the papal chapel simultaneously even perhaps from before [20]). This is because at this time Ludovico Gonzaga, wrote that he was sending a servant (Juschino) to Rome to deliver some hunting dogs to Ascanio [21].


Later Josquin traveled north to serve at the court of the King of France - Louis XII, maybe when Milan fell to the French at 1499 . For, Glarean [22] mentions an anecdote concerning Josquin in the court. It appears that Josquin was not receiving a benefice he was told he would. Josquin responded in writing the motet Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo (Remember your promise to your servant). It is said the king felt shamed by the piece and payed the compser. The payment, may have been the canonry of the collegiate church of Saint-Quentin. Which is known that Josquin held, from the two documents from the 30th of May, 1503 (when he was in Ferrara). [23]


At this time Ercole of Ferrara was looking for singers and especially new maestro to his cappella to substitute Johannes Martini that died in 1497. It is during his service with King Louis XII, that one of Ercole's messengers, Girolamo da Sestola, reported in 14 of August 1502, from Paris that Josquin would be most fitting for the job. However another messenger of Ercole, Gian de Artiganova, suggested in 2 of September 1502, Isaac would be more suitable for the job [24]. Ercole decided to hire Josquin and he and da Sestola arrived by Lyons [25] to Ferara at April 1503. Josquin remained in Ferrara about a year. It seems that during his time at Ferrara, Josquin participated in a quadrpled exchange of benefices. Giving his right at Saint-Quentin for a benefice at Conde` [26]. There is a report that, Josquin composed the Miserere while in service at Ferrara [27]. A plague has outburst in the city during Josquin stay there and it caused the Este family and court to retreat to Comacchio, and Josquin probably to leave his position there [28].


After leaving Ferrara Josquin served from 3 of May 1504 to his death, as provost of the church of Notre Dame in Conde` which at the time had a rather good choir of up to twenty-two singers. Serving as a provost meant that Josquin had commanded not less than sixty-seven persons [29]. In 1508 a letter was sent from Bourges Cathedral to Josquin, requesting him for the position of master of the choirboys. In fact, in September 1509 and the following October a messenger from the chapter was paid to travel to Picardy to have a meeting with Josquin [30]. A little earlier, in May 1509, Josquin during his work had negotiations with Rome in relation to benefices in Arras and latter, in January 1513 regarding benefices in Tournai [31].

It appears that in 1520 Charles V paid a composer named "Joskin" who traveled to present him with some new chansons, however it is not certain that it is Josquin des Prez [32]. Shortly before his death Josquin declared himself a foreigner of Conde And paid the necessary tax so that his property wont be transferred to the lord of Conde When he dies [33]. Josquin died on the 27 of August 1521 as attested by his tombstone [34]. He was buried in the church which was ruined completely during the French Revolution [35]. Josquin left his property to the church, and his house was sold to provide for services to his memory. These services include the performance of his Pater-Noster for six voices, and his Ave Maria [36].

Continue reading on the secrets of Music in the unpublished book: Some Thoughts on Western Music - by Guy Shaked

[1] Clarke, H.L., "Musicians of The Northern Renaissance", Aspects of Medieval and Renaissance Music: A Birthday Offering to Gustave Reese,1996, pp.77-78

[2] Sherr, R., "Chronology of Josquin's Life and Career", The Josquin Companion, R. Sherr (ed), Oxford, 2000, p.11

[3] Matthews L. and Merkley P., "Iudochus de Picardia and Jossequin Lebloitte dit Desprez: the Names of the Singer(s)", Journal of Musicology, Vol. 16 (1998), pp. 204, 215, 224-225

[4] Merkley, P., "Josquin Desprez in Ferrara", Journal of Musicology, Vol. 18/4 (2001), pp. 544-545

[5] He`me`re`, C., Tabella chronologica decanorun ecclesiae S.Quintini, Paris, 1633, and see Macey P., footnote no. 1

[6] Zarlino, G., The Art of Counterpoint: Part Three of Le institutioni harmoniche, 1558, G. A. Marco & C. V. Palisca (tr), New Haven, 1968, p. 243

[7] Merkley, P.,  see footnote no. 4, above, p. 545

[8] Robin, F., "Josquin des Pres au Service de Rene D'Anjou?", Revue de Musicologie, Vol. 71 (1985), pp. 180-181

[9] Clinkscale, E., "Josquin and Louis XI", Acta Musicologica, Vol. 38 (1966), pp. 67-69. He claims the piece presented is ascribed to Louis XI and therefor should belong to the period 1482-1483. Macey, P., "Josquin's Misericordias Domini and Louis XI", Early Music, Vol. 19 (1991), p. 166, 168

[10] See footnote no. 3, above, p. 212

[11] Matthews, L., "Josquin Desprez and Ascanio Sforza", Chant and its Peripheries: Essays in Honour of Terence Bailey, B. Gillingham and P. Merkley (eds), Ottawa, 1998, pp. 360-362

[12] idem, p. 364

[13] idem, p. 367

[14] As was suggested by Lowinski , E. E., "Ascanio Sforza's Life: a Key to Josquin's Biography and an Aid to the Chronology of his Works", Josquin des Prez, E. E. Lowinski (ed), New York, 1971, pp. 67-68, and see Matthews, L., ibid, p. 364

[15] Prizer, W. F., "Music at the Court of the Sforza: the Birth and Death of a Musical Center", Musica Diciplina, Vol. 43 (1989), pp. 186-187; Lowinsky, see footnote no. 14, pp. 56-57

[16] Sherr, R., "A Biographical Miscellany: Josquin, Tinctoris, Obrecht, Brumel", Musicologia Humana: Studies in Honor of Warren and Ursula Kirkendale, G. Gmeinwieser, D. Hiley and J. Riedlbauer (eds), Florence, 1994, pp. 65-67. "Jo. De Pratis" mentioned in paylists from 1486 to 1487 was identified as Johannes Stokem, and see Starr, P., "Josquin, Rome, and a Case of Mistaken Identity", Journal of Musicology, Vol. 15 (1997), pp. 55-59

[17] Noble, J., "New Light on Josquin's Benefices", Josquin des Prez, E. E. Lowinski (ed), New York, 1971, pp. 80-81,88; Sherr, R., ibid, p.67

[18] Sherr, R., The Josquin Companion, R. Sherr (ed), Oxford, 2000, opening page

[19] Haggh, B., "Du Fay and Josquin at the Collegiate Church of St. Gudila", Revue Belge de Musicologie, Vol. 55 (2001), pp. 48-51

[20] As is suggested for example by Matthews, see footnote no. 12, p. 365, Lowinsky, see footnote no. 14, p. 50

[21] Prizer, W. F., see footnote no. 15, p. 168,192

[22] Glarean, H., Dodecachordon (1547), C. A. Miller (tr), Vol. 2, (Rome), 1965, pp.271-272, 284.

[23] Merkley, P.,  see footnote no. 4, above, p. 562-563. The fact that this benefice was a "royal" one, not needing the pope's approval, exlains why it is not mentioned in Papal documents.

[24] Both letters are mentioned in Lockwood, L., "Music at Ferrara in the Period of Ercole I d'Este", Studi Musicali, Vol. 1 (1972), pp. 120-122

[25] Osthoff, H., Josquin Desprez, Tutzing, 1962, p. 53

[26] Merkley, P.,  see footnote no. 4, above, p. 561

[27] Lockwood, see footnote no. 21, p. 116

[28] Lockwood, L., "Josquin at Ferrara: New Documents and Letters", Josquin des Prez, E. E. Lowinski (ed), New York, 1971, p. 118. The few days that passed between Josquin's departure and his start of work at Conde, as well as the fact that The duke did not demand his return, suggest that he had the Duke's approval for leaving. See: Wegman, R. C., "'And Josquin Laughed...': Josquin and the Composer's Anecdote in the Sixteenth Century", The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 17/3 (1999), pp. 332-333

[29] Kellman, H., "Josquin and the Courts of the Netherlands and France: the Evidence of the Sources", Josquin des Prez, E. E. Lowinski (ed), New York, 1971, p. 207

[30] Higgins, P., "Musical 'Parents' and their 'Progeny'", Music in Renaissance Cities and Courts: Studies in Honor of Lewis Lockwood, J. A. Owens & A. M. Cummings (eds), Michigan, 1997, p. 174

[31] Sherr, R., see footnote no. 15, p. 68

[32] Kellman, H., see footnote no. 29, p. 205

[33] idem, p. 208

[34] Manuscript 389, Municipal Library, Lille, and see Ostoff, H., see footnote no. 25, p. 74

[35] Macey P., "Josquin des Prez", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, S. Sadie (ed), Macmillan & Grove, London & New York

[36] Kellman, H., see footnote no. 29, p. 208

© 1999, 2001, 2002 (3rd edition)


Transposition by a Fifth (ficta) as a Solution for Conflicting Signatures

by Guy Shaked

Keywords: ficta, Josquin, Shaked, transposition


The article will demonstrate transposition by a fifth is necessary for five pieces by Josquin that contain conflicting signatures.
It turns out that the high number of tritons formed between voices with conflicting signatures becomes significantly lower when transposition by a fifth is applied. Statistically, there should have been an identical (or almost identical) number of tritons for voices with conflicting signatures and voices transposed by a fifth in the same signature.
Hence transposition by a fifth proves successful in reducing the high number of tritons which suggests that it is the solution to the problem of multiple tritons in Josquin’s pieces with conflicting signatures.


It seems that various theoretical works speak of transposition by fifth of parts in a song including: The Berkley Manuscript, 1375; Anonymous XI, c.1450-c.1500; The Szalkai Treatise, 1490-1; Adam von Fulda, De Musica 1490; Cochlaeus, Tetrachordum Musices, 1511; Martin Agricola, Musica Figuralis Deudsch, 1532 (fol XV); Nicola Vincentino, L’antica Musica Ridotta alla Moderna Prattica, 1555 and John Dowland’s translation of Ornithoparchus’s Musicae Activae Micrologus, 1609. Some of these sources include transposition by a fifth within the subject of Musica Ficta.

For example Cochlaeus writes: “the same song transposed a fifth produces musica ficta” [1]. The Berkley manuscripts has “a coniuncta (which it says others call musica ficta) is the mental transpotion of any transposition of any property or hexachors from its own location to another location above or below”. The Szalkai treatise writes: “the Reason, however for tha invention of coiunctae is the transposition or non transposition of songs. Vicentino suggest that the Bass part should be transposed in certain cases (when there is musica finta) to the voices’ key [2].

However there are left in writing only very few pieces with notation for voices a fifth apart. These include: Josquin, Cela sans plus; Mouton, En venant de Lyon; Ockeghem, Prenez sur moi; Verdelot, Dignare me laudare te and Willaert, Aspice domine and Si je ne voy m’amie.

The small number of pieces with a voice transposed by a fifth seems most likely to suggest that transposition by a fifth, was usually not written down. Most probably, the performers mentally applied it as they read the part to be transposed, as suggested indeed by the theoretical writing that mentions such a process of “mental transposition” (like for example the Berkley manuscript quoted above).

That performers were supposed to know how to mentally transpose a part by a fifth we could deduce from the evidence of Josquin’s Una Mousse de Bisquaya, in which the upper voice is not notated and the composer or scribe deemed necessary only to mention that the voice is to be sung a fourth upwards (which equals a transposition of a fifth downwards) [3]. So that the in its actual performance the singer required to perform a mental transposition of the relevant part.

Singing a fifth apart according to the solmization system should be rather simple procedure, since the transposed part and the original notation are solminized exactly the same way, which demands from the singer only to begin the solmization on a different pitch. Afterwards, it remains is only to solminize the piece according to the notation in relation to the beginning pitch.

The possibility that conflicting signatures mean for some of the voices to be transposed by a fifth (in order to resolve the dissonances), might have resulted in a problem in the finalis that would be also transposed by a fifth. However it appears that it was possible to end the transposed voices on their original (untransposed) endnote.
As it was possible to end a certain mode on a note a fifth lower in transposition, as for example said in Glarean’s words: “However, here is a genuine rule… a song in any mode can be concluded on each fourth key above the finalis.” [4].

The results of transposition by a fifth in a piece with conflicting signatures can be exemplified in Josquin’s Basies Moy (a quatre).

Before transposition the piece has two tritons from B to F:

The piece prior to transposition contains also five tritons from B flat to E. Furthermore in bar 34 there is also an diminished octave from B flat to B which was usually avoided:

After transposition by a fifth the seven tritons are resolved and only the diminished octave is turned into a new triton so that the number of tritons is reduced from seven prior to the transposition to only one afterwards!, and the diminished octave no longer exists in the transposed piece.

Five pieces by Josquin which demonstrate the results of transposition by a fifth with voices that have conflicting signatures were examined: Basies Moy (a quatre), Cela Sans Plus, En L’ombre D’ung Buissonnet (a quatre), Faulte D’argent and Una Musque de Buscgaya. The results are displayed in the following table:

                                                                              Tritons and augmented and diminished octaves formed between                
voices with conflicting
Tritons and augmented and diminished octaves formed between              
voices with the same signature
(transposed by a fifth)
Piece Notes Bars Total Notes Bars Total
Basies Moy (a quatre) F-B 3,18 8 B flat-E 36 1
B flat-B 36
B flat-E 14,16,29,30,36
Cela Sans Plus E-B flat 28,38,50,53 8 B flat-E 40,52(2),54 4
E flat-E 54
E flat-A 48,54(2)
En L'ombre D'ung Buissonnet (a quatre) [24] B flat-E 13,16,31,38,39 5 B flat-E 39 1
Faulte D'argent B flat-B 35,67 14 B flat-E 35,40,67 3
B flat-E 11(2),15,19,32,37,39,40,54(2),58,62
Una Musque de Buscgaya [25] B flat-E 3(2),7,11,15,20(2),22,27,33(2) 11 None None 0
Total 46 9

It turns out that while no less then forty-two tritons are formed between voices with conflicting signatures, only nine are left after transposition by a fifth is applied!. The most spectacular reduction in the number of tritons occurs in the piece (to absolut zero) “Una Musque de Buscgaya”, whose harsh dissonances prior to transposition led at least one scholar to state that it could not be by the genius Josquin.[5+]
Statistically, there should have been an identical (or almost identical) number of tritons and diminished and augmented octaves for voices with conflicting signatures and those after transposition by a fifth was applied.
This reduction of eighty percent in the number of tritons testifies to the great efficiency of the solution of transposition by a fifth to conflicting signatures.
Furthermore, five augmented and diminished octaves which were usually avoided, after transposition by a fifth – cease to exist at all [6].

Transposition by a fifth might have resulted in problematic endings as the finalis note of some parts is transposed. However, as was testifies by Glaern it was possible to end a part a fifth below its melodic line as well as on its regular finalis. Employing this possibility results in that of the five pieces examined, while before transposition one piece ended in octave, three in a fifth, and one in a fourth, after the transposition and employing Glaern’s rule when a smoother final is reached, without large leaps (for pulchritudo) – all the pieces end on a single note. As for example in En L’ombre D’ung Buissonnet (a quatre):

In this example the finalis of the Altus was transposed down a fifth from B to G, following Glaern’s rule, while the finalis of the Bass was left untransposed, thus eliminating the leap from G to C that would have resulted if it were to be transposed.

As another example serves Faulte D’argent:

In this example the Contratenor was transposed by a fifth down, and the finalis on A turned to a finalis on D. The result is that all the parts end on the note D.

In conclusion, transposition by a fifth for voices with conflicting signatures is a successful solution for the five pieces examined in this study. However, further research is needed to evaluate its value pertaining to the large repertoire of music from before and after Josquin’s time. Also the more enigmatic pieces like Fortuna dun gran Tempo, and Willaert’s Quidnam Ebrietas perhaps could be solved employing transposition by a fifth with other means which are required by their enigmas once resolved. A brief examination of the transposition in the Norton Anthology of Western Music (including: Vitry’s Garrit Gallus-In nova fert-Neuma, Landini’s Non avra` ma’ pieta` and Dufay’s Nuper rosarum flores [7]) showed promising preliminary results [8]. However, it would be wise to proceed with caution as far as the expectations from transposition by a fifth. Medieval and Renaissance composers most likely hold secrets yet to be discovered.


It remains to examine how does the idea that ficta means transposition by a fifth compare to the older idea (used today) that it means the application of unwritten flats and sharps by the singers?

According to the older explanation of ficta (which is of course used today), the composers instead of simply writing down the correct flats and sharps decided to make life very hard for the singers, and make productions of the songs most costly and tiresome and sometimes false and varied in the mistakes manifested in them. So, they wrote instead sets of rules which forced the singers to several reversals of the music and forced them to know to read parts other then their own (without always having a partiture in front of them) and they also had to be erudite and to follow rules the theorists and composers did write down (and which they had the time and devoted the effort to write down).

Of course that such a practice is very hard to justify, and so it remains a "secret" - "secret" chromaticism in fact. No explanation is given why anyone had to keep it a secret, why all over Europe not one single document hints to this secret (it appears all Europeans over hundreds of years were such excellent secret keepers and for yet obscure reasons they cherished it so much not one wrote to reveal it). On the other hand, these theorists and composers had no problem to reveal ficta means mental transposition by a fifth in several written sources (but let us not allow solid facts to confuse us).

Another problem of of the older explanation of ficta is that it is over-efficient. It was employed to Willaert's "chromatic" duo and solved this riddle easily. So we are faced with another "secret": How come no singer of Willaert times applied this ficta and solved the chromatic duo as easily as modern scholars can?

Continue reading on the secrets of Music in the unpublished book: Some Thoughts on Western Music - by Guy Shaked

[1] Johannes Cochlaeus, "Tetrachordum Musices", Musicological Studies and Documents 23, ed. Clement A. Miller, American Institute of Musicology, 1961, p. 46.

[2] fol. 46v-49r

[3] “Quiescit qui suprme volat. Post me venit qui in punctu clamat.”

[4] Glarean, 70. See also: Commentarius Anonymus in Micrologum Guidonis Aretini, Anonymous XI & Lectura by Petrus Tallanderius, in Dolores Pesce, The Affinities and Medieval Transposition, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 35, 91, 96-98.


[6] In Smijers’s edition of this piece, the voices are inflicted with a B flat signature (possibly assuming a scribal error in omitting the F flat signature). Without this infliction, there would have been more tritons between the voices with conflicting signatures.

[7] In this piece the results of transposition by a fifth of the Altus are examined (the Superius is already transposed in Smijers’s edition).

[8] Johannes Tinctoris, “The Art of Counterpoint”, Musicological Studies and Documents 5, ed. A. Seay, ([S. 1.]: American Institute of Musicology, 1961) 131.

© 2003; posted on 9/7/03


Josquin’s Ave Maria: A Game of Solmization and Word Painting

by Guy Shaked

Keywords: Ave Maria, Craig Wright, Josquin, Shaked, Solmization, Word Painting

Josquin’s Motet “Ave Maria” is considered his earliest identifiable piece (from 1485 or a little later, and from Milan) [1]. The motet is for four voices, a texture of symmetry and balance and it employs imitation – the entering of voices one after another on the same musical motive.

Josquin employs also imitation by the two lower voices of the two upper voices. In Ave Maria, there are sections of imitative voices which alternate with sections of chordal writing.

At the end of the piece, Josquin employs strict chordal writing which stands out for its clarity on the words of a plea from the virgin Mary [2].

Its performance and specifically bars 44-52 were the subject of scholarly debate between Margaret Bent and Daniel Zager on one side [3] and Roger Wibberley on the other [4]. The opinion now held by most scholars is that by Wibberley that less ficta then Bent and Zager suggest should be applied to this section of the piece because modal stability should be kept.

This article would attempt to show that the text of this motet contains hints for the solmization and word painting to be realized in the written music as well as its oral performance.

Out of the solmization syllables, only one “Ut” appears in this piece (in the piece it is a word) (bars 64, 66, 67 and 69 in the different voices). Yet there is an enigma there, as singing “Ut” (note) on the “Ut” (word) is not the right thing to do. The enigma is in the verse “Ut Lucifer, lux oriens” (and Lucifer, the light of the east). Now if the page of music is imagined as a map that contains the four winds of earth, north would be its upper side, south its lower side, west its left and east would be on the right. This is the key for the solmization of this verse, it should be solmized from the east (right) starting with its “Ut” (note) on the finalis sound of the musical phrase. This creates the verse in elegant one hexachord with no need for any mutation.

Figure 1: Elegant solmization of “Ut Lucifer, lux oriens”


As for word painting: the first occurrence of it appears as early as the second verse (bars 9-17). There, the word “plena”, meaning - “full” is indeed “full of notes” in a melisma which to double its meaning contains “full” notes (which are “full” of black ink).

This vhicle is used again in the same word “plena” (bars 42-43) with a “full” realization in the Altus and Basus. While the Discantus and Tenor do not have a melisma on “plena” they sound here simultaneously with the two voices with a melisma sunding together a “plena” full of notes (and containing “full” notes (which are “full” of black ink)).

Therefore it could be seen that in this piece Josquin “paints” in music the word “plena” (“full”) in two different ways. Once (bars 9-17) with melismas in all voices following each other in the different voices, and again in simultaneously sounding melisma in some voices with a syllabic realization in other voices (yet the simultaneousness creates in performance a melisma “full” of notes).

Josquin repeats the word painting once more of a “full” melisma. For a word of similar meaning “replet” also meaning “full” suggests to the listener the following (forthcoming) melisma on the “replete laetitia” (plenty of joy) (bars 49-54).

Other word painting in this piece have been noted by scholars, such as the lack of real fertility act (man sleeping with a woman) expressed by “sine viro fecunditas” (bars 78-84) by having the two lower voices sing without the upper voices. If we assume the higher voice symbolize the woman (Maria) and the lower the man (Joseph) than they follow each other and repeat each other but are not together simultaneously as in a real act of human fertility.

Another word painting was suggested by Finscher [5]. He claimed that the downward direction in steps on the word “Angelicis” (bars 119-125) is symbolizing an angel’s salutation descending to earth from the sky.

It could be concluded therefore, that Josquin’s “Ave Maria” contains several word painting occurrences as well as a solmization riddle, these give to this piece added meaning and beauty.

[1] Joshua Rifkin, Munich, Milan, and a Marian Motet: Dating Josquin's "Ave Maria . . . virgo serena", Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 239-350.

[2] The above musical description of Ave Maria is based on: Craig Wright, Listening to Music, 5th ed., Wadsworth, Belmont CA, 2007, pp.96-98

[3] Margaret Bent, Diatonic ficta, Early Music History 4, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp.1-48. Daniel Zager, From the Singer's Point of View: A Case Study in Hexachordal Solmization as a Guide to Musica Recta and Musica Ficta in Fifteenth-Century Vocal Music, Current Musicology, Vol. 43, 1987, pp. 7-21

[4] Roger Willerby, Josquin’s Ave Maria: Musica Ficta versus Mode, Music Theory Online, Vol. 2.5, 1996

[5] Ludwig Finscher, The Josquin Companion, Richard Sherr (ed.), Oxford Uni. Press, USA, 2001, p.258

© 2008

In the service of Louis XI

by Guy Shaked

Keywords: allegory, chanson, Josquin, Louis XI, Macey, Shaked

In his article of May 1991, Patrick Macey sugests that the motet "Misericordias Domini" was written by Josquin for king Louis XI. This is because the king commissioned 50 scrolls to be hanging in his chateau with these words inscribed on them [p.164]. He also suggests the early work "Domine in furore" which focuses on sickness, and is a plea for recovery from sickness, may have been ordered by the ailing king [p.175]. This article demonstrates that no less than fifteen chansons of Josquin attend to this mater of health or insufferable pain.

Health is specifically mentioned in "N'esse pas ung grant desplaisir", as the speaker in the song says he wishes to do something that will improve his health (bien, sante). In "Tenez moy en voz bras" he says he is sick (malade). "Pour souhaiter ie ne demande mieulx" contains a request for good health (sante) and long life (vivre longuement). In "Adieu mes amours on m'atent" the speaker is asking for medicine (remede) by allegory, and in "Bergerotte savoysienne" speaks of cure (cura).

Unbearable pain is mentioned in various chansons, including: "Plaine de dueil et de melancolye", "Regretz sans fin il me fault endurer", "Incessament, livre suis a martire", "Plusieurs regretz qui sur la terre sont", "Se congie prens de mes belles amours", "Douleur me bat et tristes se m'afolle" and "Du mien amant le depart m'est si grief". This pain in many instances is that of love but allegorically could be pains of the body.

Josquin composed three laments, the most known of which is perhaps the lament for the death of Ockeghem (later than his service with Louis XI). "Cueurs desolez par toute nation" describes all the hurting hearts assembling to lament (dueil et lamentation) and mentions Orpheus who by the power of his music could raise the dead, "Que vous ma dame je le jure" containes in the second voice a prayer for the dead (In pace in idipsum dormiam et requiescam, Si dedero somnum oculis meis). Interpreted in the context of king Louis XI illness, these pieces served as a "show of force" by the composer, demonstrating his ability in writing memorials. Thus, suggesting to the king that the composer, could possibly write a glorious lament for the memory of the king when his time comes, engraving his memory in a musical piece that would bring glory to his name.

The theme of death was probably on the sick King's mind, for it apears in Josquin's chansons in various contexts. "Morte" is mentioned in eight chansons, among which are: "Petite camusette, "E' la mort m'avez mis", "Basies moy ma doulce amye" (morrie), "Nimphes, nappe's, ne'ridriades, driades", "Du mien amant le depart m'est si grief", "Je ne me puis tenir d'aimer", "Que vous ma dame je le jure", "Sy je perdoys mon amy". The chanson "Pour souhaiter ie ne demande mieulx" states a wish to have in the end the kingdom of the sky (as on earth the king has the kingdom of the land).

Some songs are directed to the woman lover which allegorically when performed in the court are interpreted to be for the queen. In five chansons there is the more specific reference to the patroness as "maistress", "grand dame" or "lady sovereign". For example: "Cueur langoreulx qui ne fais que penser" refers to the "belle maistress". "Plus n'estes ma maistresse" mentions the speaker's female master as is evident in it's title. "Je ne me puis tenir d'aimer" refers to "ma dame souveraine" and "Que vous ma dame je le jure" mentions a lady to which the speaker offers his service (n'est ne sera de moy servie). The poem "Bergerotte savoysienne" while speaking of a shepardess, and therefor can not mean the queen, is directed for her, reminding her of her birth place, for Charlotte was the daughter of the duke of Savoy.

It appears that Josquin's chansons contain various requests for payment from his patroness and patron (as is the content of his motet, "Tu Solus" as well). These requests are sometimes hinted allegorically as requests of love (possibly economical) from the patroness-lover. This is the case in "Cueur langoreulx qui ne fais que penser" where the speaker asks the lady to give happiness (donner liesse). Donner is mentioned also in "Regretz sans fin il me fault endurer" [translate the phrase]. Economical need is directly the subject of "Faulte d'argent c'est douleur non pareil" (Lack of monney is pain witout equal), saying he is suffering from it (Se ie le dis, las, ie scay bien pourquoy). In "Vous l'arez, s'il vous plaist ma dame", the speaker will give all he has got for the patroness gift (le don). The speaker in "Je ne me puis tenir d'aimer" asks the patroness for her "full good" (bonte' pleine) which might hint for a gift requested. Josquin expresses in "Adieu mes amours on m'atent" his need of money from the king: "I have no money and will live on air" (Je n'ay plus d'argent vivray je du vent) unless the king's money comes more often (Se l'argent du roy ne vient plus souvent). In "Fortune destrange plummaige" the speaker describes himself as a poor beggar for God (as if he is asking God but actually the patron in a secular song) that lacks a benefice or office "Qui n'a benefice ne' office". The grace of the patroness is requested (Se vostre grace a moy sa donne) in "Que vous ma dame je le jure". In the chanson on love "En l'ombre d'ung buissonnet au matinet" Robin receives from his loved Bellon bread (pain) as a gift of love.

Loyalty of the poet-composer is the subject of four chansons, usually stating that the composer needs to leave. This is the case in "Se congie' prens de mes belles amours", where is excuse for leaving is that staying more time so close the patroness-loved would be too painful. In "Plus n'estes ma maistresse" the poet proclaims his patroness is no longer in her position and he must leave [check in translation]. "Adieu mes amours on m'atent" tells of his taking leave until spring (Adieu je vous dy jusquez printemps) when other words mention his need of money from the patron. In "Entre' je suis en grant pense'e" the poet-composer speaks of making a new friend (allegorically acquiring new patroness), however leaves the idea when rethinks that it might turn out to be a disaster.

© 2001

Continue reading on the secrets of Music in the unpublished book: Some Thoughts on Western Music - by Guy Shaked


Two Textual Layers in Josquin's 'Tu solus'

by Guy Shaked

Keywords: allegory, chanson, Gulbenkian, Josquin, motet, Ockeghem, Shaked

This article, demonstrates for the first time, that Josquin's motet 'Tu solus, qui facis mirabilia' (You only, who do wonders)[1] contains an allegory. Understanding the allegorical meaning of 'Tu solus' helps reach a better understanding of the enigmatic textual reference in this motet to Ockeghem's 'D'ung aultre amer' (To love another)[2], as well as other artistic properties of the motet. When correlated with historical data, the allegory can further be used to help clarify the motet's historical context and meaning.

Normally the text of the motet is interpreted as a vow of allegiance to God, a reaffirmation of faith.

Tu solus, qui facis mirabilia - as a vow of allegiance to God
(English Translation)

You only, who do wonders
You only - God (Creator), Who created us
You only - Jesus (Redemptor), Who redeemed us
With your precious blood

In you alone we find refuge
In you alone we confide
No other - do we adore
Jesus Christe (Jesus Christ)

To you we offer our prayers
Hear our supplications
Grant our requests
Generous God (Rex benigne)

To love another (aultre)
Will be wrong
To love another (aultre)
Would be foolishness and sin

Hear our sighs
Fill us with your grace
O God (Rex Regum)
That we may remain in your service
With happiness forever

According to this interpretation of the text, 'Creator', 'Rex Benigne', 'Rex Regum' are God's names, and 'Redeemer' refers to Jesus.

Lines 13-15 contain a declaration denouncing heresy. That this declaration is a quote from Ockeghem's French chanson, might be a hint that it is in accordance to the teachings of the Dominican order, whose main aim was the overthrowing of heresy. The Dominican theologies were taught mainly in French universities where their center of ideology resided at that time[3]. Josquin's is known to have included the Dominican teaching's of Savonarola, in his motet 'Miserere mei, Deus' to the Ferrarese Court[4], for it appears they were favorites of Ferrara. The origin in French borrowing in the fact that French chanson, who were making their way in the 1470's to Italy in abundance[5].

Yet the text lends itself to another possible interpretation. According to it: 'Rex Benigne', and 'Rex Regum', are to be interpreted literally as referring to 'Rex' - Latin for King, and not metaphorically as names of God.

Tu solus, qui facis mirabilia - as a vow of allegiance to the patron
(English Translation)

You only, who do wonders
You only - God (Creator), Who created us
You only - Jesus (Redemptor), Who redeemed us
With your precious blood

In you alone we find refuge
In you alone we confide
No other - do we adore
Jesus Christe (Jesus Christ)

To you we offer our prayers
Hear our supplications
Grant our requests
Generous King (Rex benigne)

To love another (aultre)
Will be wrong
To love another (aultre)
Would be foolishness and sin

Hear our sighs
Fill us with your grace
O King of Kings (Rex Regum)
That we may remain in your service
With happiness forever

According to this interpretation, The singers, led by Josquin's words (in lines 6-21) promise the king that they will be faithful to him in the future, yet they request from him better pay - so that they could fulfill this promise.

The historical background for this motet is revealed in an article by Lora Matthews & Paul Merkley[7]. In a newly discovered letter addressed to the singer (not the famous composer) Josquin de Kessalia[8] from the 15 of march 1473, his patron, Galeazzo Sforza - duke of milan, threatens that he will send the singer to jail if he will not stop working for other patrons while in his service:

'Iuschino. We hear that you are spending your time writing something other than the work that we have commissioned from you and you have set aside our business to serve others...and we have been of a mind to have you locked up in prison and teach you to be more wise another time, which will be so if you do not see that the work commissioned from you is expedited without any delay.'

This was no mere threat, for Galeazzo is known to have thrown 'problematic' musicians to jail. In fact, he once had to request the Marquis of Montferrat for flautists and trumpeters, because he held his players in Jail and was not willing to release them[9].

'Tu, Solus' is probably Josquin (the famous composer) answer to similar accusations that he is working for other patrons. It is a very bold answer, since not only Josquin doesn't apologize for working for another patron while in his patron's service, but he also requests better pay if his loyalty is to be secured.

The reference to Ockeghem's motet in this piece might also be hint to the allegory of 'Tu solus'. Since Ockeghem's 'D'ung aultre amer' can also be understood allegorically - like 'Tu solus', as a vow of allegiance to a Patron. Such a reading would explain why Ockeghem's love Chanson is addressed to a male ('que je l'estrange'), while almost all his other pieces are addressed to a female.

"Tu solus" demonstrates the fact that music of the early renaissance continued the practice of medieval times of multi-layers of meaning of text in the musical pieces. The difference being that in the Medieval times this was done mainly by the method of poly-textuality (on its decline see the article - "Polytextuality: From Machaut to Ockeghem", on this site) , while in the renaissance it was achieved - by using allegory.


Josquin's motet 'Tu solus' is an allegory, both to be read as a vow of allegiance to God and to the composer's patron.
As a vow of allegiance to God, the text is to be interpreted as requesting his grace and promising allegiance to him. While, as a vow of allegiance to the patron, the composer asks for better pay in return for faithfulness.
The allegory reveals Josquin was very bold in his dealings with his patron, requesting more money from his patron, in exchange for exclusivity of his service.
Artistically, the allegory explains the quote from Ockeghem's chanson 'D'ung aultre amer' ('To love another'), as a reference to a similar allegorical musical piece promising allegiance to a patron, thus, clarifying the enigmas of both text's : Josquin's reference to Ockeghem's French chanson in his liturgical motet, and the fact that Ockegem's chanson is addressed to a male and not a female as almost all his other chansons are.
"Tu Solus"s allegory embodies both a continuation of medieval musical tradition, as well as the renaissance departure from it.

Continue reading on the secrets of Music in the unpublished book: Some Thoughts on Western Music - by Guy Shaked

* This article is based on a lecture given at the conference :
'Patronage and Production: Theoretical Perspectives and Case Studies',
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation,
Lisbon, 19 October 1998, and revised 1 April 2001

[1] For the text and music see Grout, D.J., & Palisca, C.V., A history of western music, 5ed., New-York, W.W. Norton, 1996, p. 171; Palisca, C.V.(Ed.),Norton anthology of western music,3ed., New-York, W.W. Norton, 1996,no. 33

[2] For the text and music see Grout, D.J., & Palisca, C.V., A history of western music, 5ed., New-York, W.W. Norton, 1996, p. 176,ex. 6.7; Palisca, C.V.(Ed.),Norton anthology of western music,3ed., New-York, W.W. Norton, 1996, no. 31

[3] Hay, D. & Law, J.E., Italy in the age of the Renaissance 1380-1530, London, Longman, 1993, p.134

[4] Macey, 'Savonarola and the Sixteenth-Century Motet', JAMS, Vol. 36/3, 1983, p.

[5] Lockwood, L.,Music in Renaissance Ferrara, 1400-1505, Cambridge,Mass.,Harvard Uni. Press, 1984, p.266

[6] see footnote n.1, above.

[7] Matthews, L. & Merkley, P.A., 'Josquin Desprez and his Milanese Patrons', The Journal of Musicology,, Vol. XII, no. 4, 1994, pp. 434-463

[8] Matthews, L. & Merkley, P.A., 'Iudochus de Picardia and Jossequin Lebloitte dit Desprez: the Names of the Singer(s)', Journal of Musicology, Vol. 16, 1998, pp. 200-226

[9] see footnote n.7, p. 448, footnote n.32

© 1999, 2001, 2002 (3nd edition)


The Motet-Lament 'Absalon, fili mi'

by Guy Shaked

Keywords: Alexander VI, allegory, Borgia, Gulbenkian, Josquin, motet, Shaked

The second motet examined, is 'Absalon, fili mi' - 'Absalom, my son'. This motet, believed to have been written for the Borgia Pope Alexander VI (1402-1503), in mourning the death of his son - Juan, by assassination in 1497. The text of the motet is based mainly on David's lament of his son - Absalon's Death (2 Samuel 18:33).

Absalon, fili mi

Absalom, my son

    Absalon, fili mi
    quis det ut moriar pro te
    fili mi, Absalon?
    Non viam ultra
    sed descendam in infernum plorans

    Absalom, my son
    I wish I was dead instead of you
    my son, Absalom?
    will no longer walk
    but will descend weeping to hell

Besides reading the text, as referring to Absalom, it can also be understood allegoricly as reffering to Juan Borgia. According to this interpretation of the biblical text: Abshalom (Juan) wanted to rise to power by bringing down his father - King David (Pope Alexander). He tried to gain popularity with the people (find sopporters), and then rebelled (2 Samuel 15:7-13). The rebellion failed (2 Samuel 18:7-10), and Absalon (Juan) was executed by Yoav (Cesare) (David's (Pope Alexander's) main General) (2 Samuel 18:11-17). Although David (Pope Alexander) is said to have lamented his son with great sorrow 'Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son' ('Absalon fili mi') or 'I wish I was dead instead of you' (2 Samuel 19:1-6), The excecutioner Yoav (Cesare) who did what had to be done to protect the King, was not punished. This reading helps to explain the great 'musical decent' (Grout) on the words 'decending to hell' - so big is the sin.

Only six years passed between the murder of Juan and the death of his father, Pope Alexander the VI. This did not contribute to Josquin's position at the Papal court. For, upon the rise of a new Pope, the 'problematic' story of Juan's murder was thought best forgotten, and that Josquin wrote a special piece comemerating this event did not probably contribute to his popularity at the new Papal court.

© 2000


An analysis of Serafino's sonnet to Josquin)

by Guy Shaked

Keywords: allegory, Borgia, Dante, Josquin, Serafino, Sforza, Shaked, sonnet

As one of the sources to the life of Josquin serves a sonnet to him by the poet Serafino. Serafino de' Ciminelli known as the Aquilano (1466-1500) served many years at Milan (the Sforza's) and was famous for accompanying his strambotti on the lute[1].

Only by a through and careful translation and analysis can the great complexity of meaning of Serafino's sonnet be revealed. It is such an analysis that is attempted in this article.

    Jusquino suo compagno musico
    Iusquin, non dir che'l ciel sia crudo
    et empio
    Che te adorn? de s? sublime ingegno
    Et se alcun veste ben, lassa lo
    Che di ci? gaude alcun buffone o

    Da quel ch'io te dirr? prendi
    l'argento e l'or che da stesso ? degno
    se monstra nudo e sol si veste el
    Quando se adorna alcun teatro o

    El favor di costor vien presto manco
    e mille volte el d?, sia per giocondo
    se muta el stato lor de nero in bianco

    Ma chi ha virt? gire a suo modo
    el mondo
    come om che nota et ha la zucca al
    mettil sotto acqua pur non teme
    el fondo

    To Josquin, the musical companion
    of Ascanio
    Josquin, don't say that heavens are cruel
    and pitiless
    that adorned you with such sublime genius
    and if someone is dressed well, leave him be in
    for it is the pleasure of various buffoons and

    Of the following I will speak of take your
    silver and gold that by themselves are valuable
    are displayed nude and only clothe
    when it adorns any theatre or

    The favor of these people quickly fades
    and thousand times a day, however joyful
    changes their state from black to white

    But he who has virtue, moves his own way in
    the world
    like a man who swims and has the pumpkin at
    his side
    put him under water, yet he does not fear
    to drown[2]

Lines 1-8
Besides reading the text, as referring to those who wear silver and gold as if are made of wood (meaning stupid and empty 'as logs') , it can also be understood allegoricaly as refering to clothes thus continuing the previous image in the sonnet, that of well dressed persons. According to this interpretation, Josquin who has wood buttons and cufflinks to his clothes should not mind the people who have buttons and ornaments of gold, for these in many cases cover wood. Another possible interpretation is that Josquin who had his image made of wood (some wood engraving) [3] should not envy those who have their images weaved into carpets or painted in paintings of gold and silver.

Lines 9-11
In his description of fortunes that change from black to white (good to bad) Serafino refers to 13 century Florentine politics. The Guelfs won against the Ghibllines in the battle of Benevento (1266). Following, the Guelfs split into two fractions: the Whites and Blacks, of these fractions the Blacks prevailed and the Whites were finally defeated in La Lastra on 1304[4]. Therefore the change of fortunes from Blacks (who won) to Whites (who lost) equals a shift from good to bad fortune.

The most famous person perhaps who suffered from this shift of events is Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)who was as a White Guelf was expelled from Florence. Like Josquin description this poem Dante too used to complain on his life and his economic status [5].

Lines 12-14
Pumpkins which are hollow and trap inside much air were tied to swimmers sides and used in ancient time in similar function as today's plastic floats. Serafino's image of the swimmer that fears not to drown (or in his words the river-bed) points in the minds of the people of his time to a specific person and event: [6] the drowning (killing) of the Pope's elder son Juan Borgia who's body was found in the Tiber in 1497 [7]. This image corresponds to the beginning of the sonnet in which Josquin is told not to envy the rich and well to do because their fortunes change from good to bad each day. Just like the Pope's son who unlike Josquin does not travel the world with his genius as floats to protect him from his eventual drowning.
[1] Brand, P. & Pertile, L. (eds) The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 151,163-164,271.

[2] Pending

[3] That various images of Josquin existed before the one known today from Petrus Opmeer's opus chronographicum orbis universi (1611) see: Haggh, B., 'Josquin's Portrait : New Evidence', From Ciconia to Sweelinck,, A. Clement & E. Jas (eds) Rodopi, Amsterdam, 1994, p. 106,109. This article discusses images of the composer from 1568-1579.

[4] See footnote #1a, above. p. 22,39,46.

[5] Pending

[6] Pending

[7] This suggests that the sonnet was actually written a few years after Josquin's actual service with Ascanio Sforza

© 2001

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