Jacobus Clemens non papa



Jacobus or Jacob Clemens non Papa was born around 1510 and passed away in 1555 or 1556. He belongs to the fourth generation of Flemish Polyphonists.  


Not a lot is known about the life of Jacobus Clemens non Papa. We meet him at the end of the 1530’s when the Parisian publisher Attaignant publishes his work. But he had already been building his career back home. From 1544 to 1545 he was a singing master at the St-Donaas church in Bruges. From 1545 onwards his work appeared regularly in publications by the music publishers Tielman Susato (Antwerp) and Petrus Phalesius (Louvain), which illustrates that his prestige as a composer was on the rise. Until 1549, Clemens was working in Beaumont as kapellmeister to duke Philippe II de Croÿ, one of emperor Charles V’s most important generals.  

His passing in 1555 or 1556 can be traced back to a written remark in a composition of which only the bass part has been preserved and at this time is being held in the collection of the University library of Leuven. Above the motet Hic est vere martyr is written: ‘Ultimum opus Clementis non Papae, anno 1555 21 aprilis’ (the last piece by Clemens non Papa, in the year 1555, 21 April). He was likely buried in Diksmuide, near Ypres.  


Clemens was one of the most productive and important composers of his generation. More than five hundred pieces were spread through Europe, copied and performed. His portfolio includes all the important genres of the time: fifteen masses, sixteen Magnificats, more than a hundred profane pieces (French chansons and eight songs in Dutch), 159 Souterliedekens (three-part arrangements of Dutch translated psalms), and more than 230 motets. 

The style of his work stayed ‘northern’, without any Italian influences. As far as is known Clemens never ventured out of the Low Countries to pursue a career at a foreign court or institution, unlike many of his contemporaries. This is reflected in most of his religious pieces, where the style is generally reliant on counterpoint arrangements where every voice is independently formed. The style of the French chanson is more transparent and is often adjacent to the work of Parisian composers who introduced innovation to the genre, such as Claudin de Sermisy. 


Clemens’ name is primarily tied to the Souterliedekens: 159 three-part arrangements of psalms. Souter stands for psalter of psalm. They appeared posthumously in three parts published by Tielman Susato in 1556 and 1557. Some of these were possibly composed by Susato himself, after the passing of the composer. The texts are presumably by the hand of Willem van Zuylen of Nijevelt. They were first published in 1540 by Symon Cock in Antwerp with the mention of the ‘manner’ in which every psalm could be sung. For the most part these were set to Flemish Folk Songs. Clemens non Papa generally appropriated the melody for the tenor voice and sometimes the upper voice for his three-part psalm arrangement. Most souterliedekens are simple counterpoint pieces, meant for home performances. They are free of any religious convictions. 

Vocal works (selection)

Als ick riep met verlanghen (s.d.), for three voices, listen to it here
Ego flos campi (1540), for seven voices, listen to it here
Vox in rama (s.d.), for four voices, listen to it here
La belle Margharite (1550), for five voices
Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis (s.d.), for five voices, listen to it here

Jacobus Clemens non Papa - Godt is mijn licht / ende salicheijt by Capilla Flamenca
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