Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/53

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JOSQUIN.
41
 

'Hercules dux [1]Ferrariæ,' and his Miserere. Aaron tells us how Josquin, Obrecht, Isaac, and Agricola were his intimate friends in Florence. Various anecdotes are told of his stay at the French court. How he was anxious to obtain promotion from the king, but when the courtier to whom he applied for help always put him off with the answer 'Lascia fare mi,' weary of waiting Josquin composed a mass on the subject La, sol, fa, re, mi, repeated over and over again in mimicry of the oft-repeated answer, and how the idea pleased the king's fancy so much that he at once promised Josquin a church benefice. How Louis nevertheless forgot his promise and Josquin ventured to refresh the royal memory with the motets 'Portio mea non est in terra viventium' and 'Memor esto verbi tui.' Lastly, how Louis XII, admiring music from the respectful distance of complete ignorance, desired the great composer to write something expressly for him, and how Josquin wrote a canon, in accompaniment to which the 'Vox regis' sustained throughout a single note.[2] Whether Louis ever did give the promised benefice to Josquin is uncertain, though the motet 'Bonitatem fecisti cum servo tuo' is generally supposed to have been a thank-offering for such an appointment. But we have proof that the last years of the composer's life were spent in the enjoyment of church preferment at Condé. He had probably passed from the service of Louis to that of Maximilian, who became possessed of the Netherlands in 1515, and may have presented Josquin with this position of retirement. Of his death at this place, a MS. at Lille gives the evidence in a copy of his epitaph, in the choir at Condé, as follows:—

Chy gist sire Josse Despres
Prevost de Cheens fut jadis
Priez Dieu pour les Trepassez qui leur done son
paradis
Trepassa l'an 1521 le 27 d'Aoust
Spes mea semper fuisti

Josquin's printed compositions consist of 19 masses, about 50 secular pieces, and upwards of 150 motets with sacred words, a complete list of them being given in Eitner's 'Bibliographie der Musik-Sammelwerke' (Berlin, 1877). Several composers of the same period have left more published works, but Glarean tells us that Josquin was very critical about his own compositions, and sometimes kept them back for years before he allowed their performance. Some evidence of the spread of his music is afforded by the fact mentioned by Burney (Hist. ii. 489) that Henry the VIII.'s music book at Cambridge contains some of it, and that Anne Boleyn had collected and learned many of his pieces during her residence in France.

Of the 19 masses, 17 were printed in 3 books by Petrucci. The most beautiful of them are the 'La sol fa re mi,' the 'Ad fugam' and the 'De Beata Virgine.' The first or these, if we credit the story of its origin, would be composed after the year 1498, when Louis XII ascended the throne. Two other masses, 'Pange Lingua' and 'Da pacem,' not included in the above books are probably of a still later date. These 5 masses are those in which Josquin shows the greatest advance on the school of his master.

Among the finest of the motets we may mention the settings of the genealogies in the first chapters of St. Matthew and St. Luke, a 5-part 'Miserere,' and the 4-part psalms 'Planxit autem David' (the lament for Saul and Jonathan) and 'Absolon fili mi.' Some of the masses and many of the motets exist in MS. score, with modern notation, in the Fétis library at Brussels. In their original form they can be found in all the great libraries of Europe.

Of the secular works, the most important collection is in the 7th book of Susato's songs published in 1545, which contains 24 pieces by Josquin. Here we find the beautiful dirge written on the death of Ockenheim, which is also printed in score by Burney in his History.

It must however be borne in mind, that in distinguishing works of these old composers, we are often more attracted by some historical interest, some quaintness in the choice of the text, or some peculiarity in the musical notation, than by the features of the music itself, and when we do try to separate one piece of music from the other we are naturally led at first to admire most whatever comes nearest to our modern ideas (those pieces for instance written in the modes most like our own keys), and to be disappointed when a mass or motet, which we know by tradition to be a masterpiece, fails to move us, and to lay it aside with the explanation that it is only a dry contrapuntal work. But it is not fair to study the music of this period simply to find out how much our modern schools owe to it. When Burney calls Josquin 'The father of modern harmony' he does not perhaps give the title of which the composer would himself be proudest, 'for there are musicians alive now,' says Doni in his Musical Dialogues, 'who, if Josquin were to return to this world would make him cross himself.' We must regard these Netherland masters, not only in their relationship to succeeding generations, but as the chief lights of a school of religious music which had at that time reached so complete a form that any further progress without an entire revolution seemed impossible; a school of church music which, were we to consider alone the enormous demands it made on the industry and intellect of its followers, would excite our reverence, but which, when we consider the wonderful hold it had on popular feeling throughout Europe for nearly a century, kindles in us the hope that we may not be too far separated by our modern ideas from the possibility of once again being moved by the fire of its genius. If the absence of a satisfactory modern school of church music

  1. In this mass the tenor sings the subject,

    Re ut re ut re fa mi re,

    the vowels in these syllables corresponding with those in the words 'Hercules dux Ferrarie.'

  2. Whether the king was able to master this simple achievement, or whether, like Housel—for whom Mendelssohn wrote a similar part in the 'Son and Stranger'—he proved 'quite unable to catch the note, though blown and whispered to him from every side,' we are not told. The canon itself is given by Hawkins, chap. 70.