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JOSQUIN DES PREZ sixteenth-century lute settings

Audio Samples

Adieu mes amours (range) - mp3 - 757KB

Scaramella (range) - mp3 - 917KB


1. Anon. (South German, mid 16th century) Praeter rerum seriem
2. part II: Virtus sancti Spiritus

3. Valentin Bakfark (c1526/30-1576) Faulte d'argent

4. Francesco Spinacino (fl1507) Comment peut avoir Joye

5.Vincenzo Capirola (1474-after 1548) Et in terra pax
6. Qui tollis peccata mundi
(from Missa pange lingua)

7. Hans Gerle (c1500-1570) Scaramella
Hans Newsidler (c1508/9-1563) Scaramella

8. Hans Gerle En l'ombre d'ung buysonnet

9. Alberto da Ripa (c1500-1551) Benedicta es coelorum Regina
10. part II: Per illud ave
11. part III: Nunc Mater exora natum

12. Miguel de Fuenllana (early 16th Primero kyrie
13. century-after 1568) Christe
14. Postrero kyrie
(from Missa la sol fa re mi)

15. Luys de Narváez (fl1530-50) Mille regretz (la cancion del Emperador)

16. Alonso Mudarra (c1510-1580) Glosa sobre un Kyrie postrero
(from Missa pange lingua)

17. Simon Gintzler (c1500-after 1547) Circumdederunt me [Nimphes, nappés]

18. Hans Newsidler Adieu mes amours

19. Simon Gintzler Pater noster
20. part II: Ave Maria

tracks 1-3, 19, 20: six-course lute in g by Andrew Rutherford, New York, 1997, after Gerle (c1580)
tracks 4-11, 17, 18: six-course lute in e by Michael Lowe, Oxfordshire, 1999, after Frei (early sixteenth century)
tracks 12-16: six-course vihuela in g by Paul Thomson, London, 1985
strings by Aquila (Italy) and Daniel Larson (USA)


This is a disc of arrangements: sixteenth-century arrangements for lute (and its Spanish counterpart, the vihuela) of vocal music by the greatest of renaissance composers, Josquin Desprez. The arrangements, from Italy, Spain, Germany and France, are by the leading lutenists of the early and mid sixteenth century; the earliest is by Spinacino (1507) from the first surviving published book of lute music; the latest is by the Transylvanian virtuoso Valentine Bakfark, from the Cracow Lute Book of 1565 (which also includes Bakfark's setting of the splendid four-part motet “Qui habitat in adjutorio” -- see my previous DGM CD, Black Cow).

Intabulation is the “official” name for an instrumental arrangement of a vocal piece. The sixteenth-century solo lute and vihuela repertoire can be divided into three categories:

1) fantasias and other freely composed pieces
2) dances
3) intabulations of vocal originals

A cursory survey of sixteenth-century lute music, both in manuscripts and in printed books, shows that intabulations form the largest category. And yet this category is largely unrepresented in performance and in recordings today.

Over a period of several years, with the help of leading scholars of lute music, I have assembled and played through as complete a list as possible of the hundreds of surviving sixteenth-century lute settings of Josquin Desprez's vocal music. After a long process of studying the intabulations and the vocal originals, I compiled this programme of some of the finest settings, and, during 1999, I toured with the programme, giving concerts in London, Turin, Vancouver and Norwich.

This is not only the first CD/concert programme ever to be devoted entirely to intabulations, it is also the first lute project ever devoted entirely to the great Josquin Desprez and to the legacy of Josquin instrumental arrangements, and much of the music has not been recorded or performed in modern times.

Why have we avoided intabulations until now? They are, after all, the meat and potatoes of the sixteenth-century lutenist's activity. Probably it is because: 1) they are difficult technically; 2) they have, in our culture of “originality”, perhaps been thought of as somehow derivative (not unlike piano reductions of orchestral scores in the nineteenth century); and 3) the vocal originals are less well-known among lutenists and audiences today, which removes the music from its original context.

I believe that none of these reasons is particularly convincing: the technical difficulty has not proven an obstacle; it's simply a matter of giving the music one's time and commitment. The musical rewards are rich. Regarding the derivative quality of intabulations and the fact that, generally, people are unfamiliar with the vocal originals, I am convinced (and audiences have confirmed) that the best Josquin lute settings are fine instrumental pieces in their own right. I like to think of these pieces as transformations of vocal music rather than as reductions. Of course a knowledge of the vocal originals greatly enhances one's appreciation of these lute pieces, but Josquin's music is of such high quality, and the best settings so skilful, that his genius shines through them. Quite simply, this is great music which needs no apology.

(c) 2000, Jacob Heringman

Josquin des Prez and intabulations

Sometimes it feels as though Josquin will disappear in a whiff of smoke. Since Helmuth Osthoff's great biography of the composer (1962-5) it has become clear that a very large part of his details actually concerned other musicians -- Josquin de Kessalia at the court of Milan (d.1498), Josquin Steelant at the court of Burgundy, Josquin Doro at the court of Ferrara, Johannes Stokem (called Jo. de Pratis) at the Papal chapel, and so on. Fortunately some new documents have also been found, but our picture of his life is a lot more tentative than it once looked.

The present view is like this. He was born around the present French-Belgian border, probably in the mid-1450s, some 15 years later than once thought. His early career was not in Milan but probably at the chapel of 'Good' King René of Anjou (d.1480) at Aix-en-Provence and then in the Sainte-Chapelle of King Louis XI of France. After Louis died in 1483 Josquin seems to have been in Milan for a few years before joining the Papal chapel in 1489 (three years later than once thought). In 1496 he again disappears from trace, possibly returning to France; but he was certainly at the court of Ferrara for the year 1503-4, after which he moved north to Condé, where he was provost of the collegiate church until his death in 1521. What is abundantly clear, however, is that from the time when Ottaviano de' Petrucci published his first book of Josquin masses in 1502 Josquin stood as incomparably the most famous composer of the day.

An even more serious disappearing act has happened with his music. Josquin's fame in the 16th century seems to have led copyists and particularly printers to add his name to pieces of all kinds. Just over 300 works exist with his name on them in some 1000 early sources. The complete Josquin edition of Albert Smijers (finished in 1969) printed only two-thirds of these: some were unknown at the time, but in most cases their omission from the Smijers edition was already a judgment that they could not be authentic. Jeremy Noble's worklist for The New Grove Dictionary (1980) gave only 176 as being probably by Josquin. Since then the number of accepted works has continued to fall. Every few months there is another article arguing that a particular work is not really by him.

So today many Josquin scholars prefer to take a different tack, beginning from the other end. They look for works that present an overwhelming documentary case for being indeed by Josquin des Prez. Often that case includes ascriptions in several sources of independent authority, survival in sources from Josquin's lifetime or from editors who could be expected to have good information (Senfl and Glareanus, for example), and perhaps a passing reference by some writer or theorist. That approach obviously raises questions: it excludes the broader picture of what Josquin meant to hundreds of musicians in the later 16th century; and it seriously risks losing dimensions of Josquin's creativity that may just happen to be less well supported by documentary evidence. But it yields a small body of music that is of a stunningly high quality: 12 masses, some 40 motets and around a dozen songs.

But it turns out that this fairly small repertory, the hard-core Josquin, is the music that made by far the greatest impact in the 16th century. These are the works that appear in the largest number of sources (a whiff of circular argument here, but let it pass); by and large, they are the pieces that formed the basis of parody works down to the time of Lassus and Palestrina; and they are also the ones overwhelmingly preferred by the musicians who arranged his music for lute or vihuela.
Among them, on this disc, are the three great six-voice motets Praeter rerum seriem, Benedicta es and Pater noster. All had a huge impact on later composers. Pater noster may be one of his last and most serene works; Josquin chose it to be sung annually in his memory at Condé. The other two may date from around 1500, and stand at the very root of the six-voice motet tradition in the 16th century. Despite the difficulties of reducing six voices to lute tablature, there are no fewer than 24 tablature sources for Benedicta es and 15 for Pater noster.

Similarly with the masses. The mass Pange lingua -- the only Josquin mass that was not printed by Petrucci, and therefore possibly his last surviving mass -- was excerpted and recopied throughout the century. And in many ways the mass La sol fa re mi, perhaps from the mid-1490s, is the most perfect of all his works. Although the vihuelist Diego Pisador famously intabulated eight entire masses of Josquin in 1552, the general pattern was to select shorter sections, which is what we find in the Spanish printed tablatures of Mudarra and Fuenllana as well as in the Venetian manuscript of Capirola (one of the earliest sources for any music of the Pange lingua mass).

Of the solidly documented songs, “Adieu mes amours” must be one of the earliest, composed before 1480; and it was also to be one of his most successful -- known from nine tablature sources, alongside 16 staff-notation sources. And the latest may well be “Mille regretz”, with a similar spread of sources: this work has in fact been informally doubted by some, partly because only one (much later) source supports the ascription to Josquin in Narváez's tablature; but I have recently convinced myself that a closer examination of the evidence not only shows it to be by Josquin but also suggests that it is one of his very last works, perhaps from 1520.

The five-voice chanson “Faulte d'argent” (perhaps from soon after 1500) has been questioned on stylistic grounds; but the documentary case for its being by Josquin seems hard to shake, and with the shifting picture of Josquin's output it seems wise for the moment to resist stylistic judgments. The six-voice “Nimphes, nappés” -- a work widely distributed with the Latin text “Circumdederunt me” (following the borrowed chant presented in canon within the texture) -- is also among his most solidly ascribed works: it surely dates from his last years in Condé.

“Comment peut avoir joye” (4vv) and “En l'ombre d'ung buysonnet” (3vv) remain hard to place within Josquin's output, though again they are among the most securely ascribed of his songs. As an intriguing teaser, this recording also includes the anonymous three-voice “Scaramella” setting that seems to be the basis of the more famous settings by Josquin and Compere as well as the mass by Obrecht. The anonymous piece is known from four sources (all tablatures), which is more than any of the other Scaramella settings.

For the rest, though, these later arrangements for plucked instruments give an astonishingly direct report of Josquin's most influential and loved works. In many cases one is hearing them through the medium of another musician's creativity, hearing them as they were heard in the generations after the composer's death, when he stood as the unassailable model for fine and refined music. But paradoxically it is through the eyes and ears of these later musicians that we can begin reassembling a plausible picture of Josquin des Prez.

(c) David Fallows January 2000

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