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About Josquin Des Prez

Josquin Des Prez was one of the most influential and widely regarded composers in the history of Western music, so famous that he is known merely by his first name. Josquin was apparently born in the Duchy of Burgundy, in modern Belgium. He spent a large portion of his middle years in various Italian cities as a highly sought master of music, and then retired to Conde (in Northeast France) late in his life. Josquin's extended sojourns in Italy allowed him not only to spread the Northern polyphonic style there, but to pick up some of the Southern vitality noticeable in many of his secular works. However, his extended works are always marked by a subtlety and serenity characteristic of the Franco-Flemish school. Josquin's surviving musical output is very large, comprising masses, motets, and secular songs in both French and Italian. His style is marked by the technique of pervasive imitation, in which different vocal lines share material in a subtle interlocking manner. Most of his compositions are for four voices, though larger textures are not uncommon. Josquin's masses include not only cantus firmus masses, such as the widely reknowned Missa Pange Lingua, but also "parody" masses in which entire contrapuntal complexes are borrowed from an earlier source. His secular compositions are highly varied, from light songs called "frottola," to weightier french chansons such as the widely parodied "Milles Regretz," to the motet-chanson "Deploration on the death of Ockeghem/Nimphes des bois" and its gloomy textures. However, Josquin's motets contain some of his most varied and highly respected output, and it is here that his combination of piety, technical mastery, and individual discretion makes its surest showing.

Today, Josquin's reputation is as high as it has ever been, except perhaps during his lifetime when he was the most sought after composer in Europe. His command of text and structure makes his music one of the great legacies of Western art. ~ Todd McComb