About Josquin des Prez (Lebloitte)
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] (c. 1450 to 1455 – 27 August 1521), often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He is also known as Josquin Desprez and Latinized as Josquinus Pratensis, alternatively Jodocus Pratensis, although he himself expressed his preferred spelling of his name, Josquin des Prez, in an acrostic in his motet Illibata Dei virgo nutrix. He was the most famous European composer between Guillaume Dufay and Palestrina, and is usually considered to be the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. Josquin is widely considered by music scholars to be the first master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music that was emerging during his lifetime. During the 16th century, Josquin gradually acquired the reputation as the greatest composer of the age.
Josquin wrote both sacred and secular music, and in all of the significant vocal forms of the age, including masses, motets, chansons and frottole. During the 16th century, he was praised for both his supreme melodic gift and his use of ingenious technical devices.
Birth and early career
Little is known for certain of Josquin's early life. Much is inferential and speculative, though numerous clues have emerged from his works and the writings of contemporary composers, theorists, and writers of the next several generations. Josquin was born in the area controlled by the Dukes of Burgundy, and was possibly born either in Hainaut (modern-day Belgium), or immediately across the border in modern-day France, since several times in his life he was classified legally as a Frenchman (for instance, when he made his will). Josquin was long mistaken for a man with a similar name, Josquin de Kessalia, born around the year 1440, who sang in Milan from 1459 to 1474, dying in 1498. More recent scholarship has shown that Josquin des Prez was born around 1450 or a few years later, and did not go to Italy until the early 1480s.
Around 1466, perhaps on the death of his father, Josquin was named by his uncle and aunt, Gilles Lebloitte dit Desprez and Jacque Banestonne, as their heir. Their will gives Josquin's actual surname as Lebloitte. According to Matthews and Merkley, "des Prez" was a nickname.
From 1489 to 1495 Josquin was a member of the papal choir, first under Pope Innocent VIII, and later under the Borgia pope Alexander VI. He may have gone there as part of a singer exchange with Gaspar van Weerbeke, who went back to Milan at the same time. While there, he may have been the one who carved his name into the wall of the Sistine Chapel; a "JOSQUINJ" was recently revealed by workers restoring the chapel. Since it was traditional for singers to carve their names into the walls, and hundreds of names were inscribed there during the period from the 15th to the 18th centuries, it is considered highly likely that the graffiti is by Josquin – and if so, it would be his only surviving autograph.
Departure from Rome; Milan and France
Around 1498 Josquin most likely re-entered the service of the Sforza family, on the evidence of a pair of letters between the Gonzaga and Sforza families. He probably did not stay in Milan long, for in 1499 Louis XII captured Milan in his invasion of northern Italy and imprisoned Josquin's former employers. Around this time Josquin most likely returned to France, although documented details of his career around the turn of the 16th century are lacking. Prior to departing Italy he most likely wrote one of his most famous secular compositions, the frottola El grillo, as well as In te Domine speravi ("I have placed my hope in you, Lord"), based on Psalm 30.
Josquin probably remained in the service of Louis XII until 1503, when Duke Ercole I of Ferrara hired him for the chapel there. One of the rare mentions of Josquin's personality survives from this time. Prior to hiring Josquin, one of Duke Ercole's assistants recommended that he hire Heinrich Isaac instead, since Isaac was easier to get along with, more companionable, was more willing to compose on demand, and would cost significantly less (120 ducats vs. 200). Ercole, however, chose Josquin.
While in Ferrara, Josquin wrote some of his most famous compositions, including the austere, Savonarola-influenced Miserere, which became one of the most widely-distributed motets of the 16th century; the utterly contrasting, virtuoso motet Virgo salutiferi; and possibly the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, which is written on a cantus firmus derived from the musical letters in the Duke's name, a technique known as soggetto cavato.
Retirement to Condé-sur-l'Escaut
Josquin went directly from Ferrara to his home region of Condé-sur-l'Escaut, southeast of Lille on the present-day border between Belgium and France, becoming provost of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame on 3 May 1504, a large musical establishment that he headed for the rest of his life. While the chapter at Bourges Cathedral asked him to become master of the choirboys there in 1508, it is not known how he responded, and there is no record of his having been employed there; most scholars presume he remained in Condé.
During the last two decades of his life, Josquin's fame spread abroad along with his music. The newly-developed technology of printing made wide dissemination of his music possible, and Josquin was the favorite of the first printers: one of Petrucci's first publications, and the earliest surviving print of music by a single composer, was a book of Josquin's masses which he printed in Venice in 1502. This publication was successful enough that Petrucci published two further volumes of Josquin's masses, in 1504 and 1514, and reissued them several times.