Desprez - Encyclopedia

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DESPREZ, and by a latinized form of his name, Jodocus Pratensis or A Prato, French musical composer, was born, probably in Conde in the Hennegau, about 1445. He was a pupil of Ockenheim, and himself one of the most learned musicians of his time. In spite of his great fame, the accounts of his life are vague and the dates contradictory. Fetis contributed greatly towards elucidating the doubtful points in his Biographic universelle. In his early youth Josquin seems to have been a member of the choir of the collegiate church at St Quentin; when his voice changed he went (about 1455) to Ockenheim to take lessons in counterpoint; afterwards he again lived at his birthplace for some years, till Pope Sixtus IV. invited him to Rome to teach his art to the musicians of Italy, where musical knowledge at that time was at a low ebb. In Rome Des Pres lived till the death of his protector (1484), and it was there that many of his works were written. His reputation grew rapidly, and he was considered by his contemporaries to be the greatest master of his age. Luther, who was a good judge, is credited with the saying that "other musicians do with notes what they can, Josquin what he likes." The composer's journey to Rome marks in a manner the transference of the art from its Gallo-Belgian birthplace to Italy, which for the next two centuries remained the centre of the musical world. To Des Pres and his pupils Arcadelt, Mouton and others, much that is characteristic in modern music owes its rise, particularly in their influence upon Italian developments under Palestrina. After leaving Rome Des Pres went for a time to Ferrara, where the duke Hercules I. offered him a home; but before long he accepted an invitation of King Louis XII. of France to become the chief singer of the royal chapel. According to another account, he was for a time at least in the service of the emperor Maximilian I. The date of his death has by some writers been placed as early as 1501. But this is sufficiently disproved by the fact of one of his finest compositions, A Dirge (Deploration) for Five Voices, being written to commemorate the death of his master Ockenheim, which took place after 151 2. The real date of Josquin's decease has since been settled as the 27th of August 1521. He was at that time a canon of the cathedral of Conde (see Victor Delzant's Sepultures de Flandre, No. 118).

The most complete list of his compositions - consisting of masses, motets, psalms and other pieces of sacred music - will be found in Fetis. The largest collection of his MS. works, containing no less than twenty masses, is in the possession of the papal chapel in Rome. In his lifetime Des Pres was honoured as an eminent composer, and the musicians of the 16th century are loud in his praise. During the 17th and 18th centuries his value was ignored, nor does his work appear in the collections of Martini and Paolucci. Burney was the first to recover him from oblivion, and Forkel continued the task of rehabilitation. Ambros furnishes the most exhaustive account of his achievements. An admirable account of Josquin's art, from the rare point of view of a modern critic who knows how to allow for modern difficulties, will be found in the article "Josquin," in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, new ed. vol. ii. The Repertoire des chanteurs de St Gervais contains an excellent modern edition of Josquin's Miserere.

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