Heaven and earth: a performer’s guide to Josquin’s masses 4
3. Anthony Pryer, in the BBC Music Magazine, October 2016, p.90. 4. A further reason why Josquin may have felt able to experiment with compositional styles as the urge took him, rather than as his employers dictated, has been advanced by David Fallows ( Josquin (Turnhout), pp.105–06): that Josquin was independently wealthy. An inheritance from his aunt and uncle in 1483 seems to have been quite substantial enough for him ‘not to have needed to worry about employment. That may help to explain some odd facts of his later life: the way in which he moved from place to place, his contacts with the rich and the mighty [...] It may also explain some of the details in the famous letter of 1502 in which Gian d ’Artiganova outlined reasons not to employ Josquin at the court of Ferrara: that he composed only when he wanted to [...] And it may well be that this wealth released him from the drudgery of composing full cycles of mass propers, as Isaac and Senfl were to do in the following years. There are no coherent sets of music in Josquin’s work.
Fossombrone, and even then communication networks were not so bad that he couldn’t defend his property.
I suspect no one has the general knowledge to say categorically that any one of the doubted masses by Josquin is so like the music of one of the hundreds of talented contemporary Flemish composers that we need look no further; but to my ear there are no similarities, for example, with the music of de la Rue or Isaac, and very few with Obrecht. I take the point which Anthony Pryer made in the BBC Music Magazine, when reviewing a new disc of de la Rue ’s music: ‘La Rue cannot match the ingenuity of his great contemporary Josquin des Prez (there is hardly a harmonic surprise anywhere), but recordings such as these allow us to ask the question: What can we know of Josquin if we only Josquin know?’3 To put it another way, what would the scholars of the future say on discovering, with only partial evidence, the output of Stravinsky? Would they conclude that all the differing styles which make up his music couldn’t be the work of a single person? If they did decide this it would then be incumbent on them to find the contemporary composers who in their opinion must have written it. That would be their professional responsibility (and if they did it really well they might get tenure).4
Although the many writers on Josquin’s masses have failed to reach definitive answers on the questions of their authorship and dating, a consensus has been broadly reached. In the matter of dating, only three of the 18 are habitually described as being ‘late ’: Sine nomine; the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus of De beata virgine; and Pange lingua, which is often spoken of as the last of the cycle. In fact I shall argue that Mater patris postdates them all. Many of the others, including some of the greatest ones, were written around the year 1500. Before that there are two or three obviously early and experimental works; and one or two which defy convenient placing, like Di dadi and Mater patris. (David Fallows is one of several recent writers to give a nuanced view.5 He also lists some of the disagreements that have sprung up in the scholarly community over the years in dating Josquin’s
Of his Latin-texted music there is very little with a clear liturgical function apart from the mass ordinary cycles (which have their own musical agenda).’ 5. ibid., p.267: ‘There is a lot of comfort in the old view of Josquin’s masses: that there are eighteen authentic cycles, of which all but one were printed in Petrucci’s three books of his masses;
and that Missa Pange lingua was composed after the third Petrucci book of 1514. Moreover, that of these, Petrucci’s first book (1502) printed the best works he had available at the time, the second (1505) started with three new works, ending with three very early works, and the third book (1514) contained one new work (Missa De beata virgine) alongside an otherwise mixed selection.’ After some refining Fallows goes on provisionally to conclude: ‘The new picture seems attractive. That the first five masses in Misse Josquin (1502) are all from the 1490s; that the three at the start of the Liber secundus (1505) are from the first years of the century; and that at least De beata virgine, Faysant regretz and Sine nomine are from after 1505.’