Josquin Desprez



Josquin Desprez (presumably east of Tournai c. 1450 - Condé, 27 August 1521) was a musician from Hainault who was without a doubt the central figure of the third generation of Flemish polyphonists.


From a young age, Deprez was already active as a choral singer or altar boy in the cathedral of Cambrai.  

At the beginning of the 1480’s his name appears on multiple occasions in annual financial statements in Milan where he worked at the court of Sforza’s. In the wake of cardinal Ascanio Sforza, Josquin traveled to Rome where, from 1489 until at least early 1495, he was a member of the papal court chapel: first under pope Innocentius VIII, later under pope Alexander VI. In 1503 he became kapellmeister for the Italian duke Ercole d'Este of Ferrara.  

Because of the plague in 1504, Josquin left Ferrara and relocated to Condé-sur-l’Escaut. At the recommendation of the Burgundian duke Philip the Handsome he was named canon of the Notre-Dame. From here he was able to maintain close relations with the court of Margaret of Austria in Malines, acting magistrate of the Netherlands on behalf of her nephew, emperor Charles V. 

Motets for 5 or 6 parts

Josquin (derived from the Flemish "Josken") enjoyed fame as a singer, composer and pedagogue.  Characteristic in his music are the transparency and tight structure present in his compositions where music narrowly aligns with lyrics. He mostly writes motets, masses and chansons.  

In the art of motets Josquin represents the newest trends that were in vogue towards the end of the fifteenth and at the beginning of the sixteenth century. He uses texts from the Psalms, builds up the imitation method accordingly and devotes a lot of attention to the relationship between text and music. His motets grow to be five or six parted, yet he still succeeds in creating transparent counterpoint structures. In the motet Ave Maria, virgo serana, Josquin applies several imitation methods per verse: (real) imitation, paired imitation (two voices imitate two others) and canon technique. 

Monumental masses

In his masses Deprez emphasizes the monumentality of their structure. The continuously recurring text of a mass naturally offered less possibility of lyrical expression in comparison to the motet. He is multifaceted in his use of different techniques: certain masses are based on the cantus firmus, in others he uses imitation canon, other works still are based on an ostinato motif.  

Déploration pour la mort d'Ockeghem

In Josquin’s hands, the chanson evolves into a composition where syllabic declamation dominates. Here too we mostly see five and six-parted compositions. 

The five-parted Nymphes des bois deserves a special mention. It was written for the death of Johannes Ockeghem, as ‘déploration’.

Vocal works (selection) 

  • Mille regretz, 1480-1490?, for four parts, you can listen to it here with Vox Luminis. 
  • Nymphes des bois, 1497, for five parts, written for the death of Johannes Ockeghem.
  • Dulces exuviae, s.d., for four parts, you can listen to it here with Huelgas Ensemble conducted by Paul Van Nevel.
  • Ave Maria, virgo serena, 1497, for four parts, you can listen to it here
  • Missa Pange lingua, 1514, for four parts, you can listen to it here
Nymphes des bois door Vox Luminis, 2011
Share this page