Composition[ edit ] The opening line shows the lyrical use of imitative counterpoint. It was initially thought to have been copied into the manuscript Munich by Each phrase corresponds to a line of text, cleverly exposed through points of imitation. Structural articulations often resolve on cadences, where voices arrive on perfect intervals. The opening section summarizes the first four lines of text in a simple structure. Clear imitation of each phrase, in the style of litany , dramatically echoes from the highest to lowest voice, almost resembling Gregorian chant.
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Regarded by many as one of the greatest composers of all time, he was very popular while he was alive. As with many composers from before the Baroque era, there are significant gaps in our biographical knowledge of Josquin. He most likely grew up in northern France, between Paris and Brussels, probably in or near Saint Quentin.
In the following years, and through much of his career, Josquin worked in Italy, taking posts in Milan, Rome, and Ferrara. Josquin defied the artistic stereotype of the starving artist, toiling in obscurity an image that was not a stereotype at all during the time when Josquin lived.
Like all notable composers of this period, Josquin primarily composed vocal music, the vast majority of it religious. Musicologists are fortunate that the the works of Josquin have been relatively easy to find compared to many other composers of the time period.
Ottaviano Petrucci, the first printer of polyphonic music, published three volumes of his masses, totaling 18 works.
There have also been dozens of confirmed motets and chansons by Josquin, several of which included instruments a fairly uncommon practice at the time. Following his death, many publishers scrambled to publish his work. Many of these publishers also published the work of other composers under his name, hoping to capitalize on his popularity.
As a result, researchers now have to be skeptical when examining works attributed to Josquin. This work is an example of a motet, which at the time referred generally to single-movement polyphonic vocal works with religious Latin texts. Like previous generations of composers, Josquin wrote vocal lines that strove for clarity and fluidity in contour and form. His works have clear tonal centers and tuneful melodies. The texture of the work, though often involving somewhat dense counterpoint, is always handled carefully to allow for clarity so the text can be understood.
Josquin is among the first generation of composers to consistently focus on depicting the meaning of the text through the music, using devices like shifts in tessitura, melodic contour, texture, and harmonic construction to elaborate on the emotions of the words. This work opens with what is called imitative counterpoint, which is characterized by the sequential introduction of the same melodic line in each of the four voices of the ensemble.
This process repeats three times, then after the last voice enters, the counterpoint becomes more free as it leads to the end of the phrase. This is followed by a brief call and response, leading into a section of rhythmic unison. Notice throughout this section and the rest of the piece how the accented syllables of the text are accentuated both through tessitura using higher pitches and through agogic stress using longer durations on accented syllables.
These techniques and devices are used throughout this short, lovely work, illustrating beautifully the craft that made Josquin the master of his day. Try to take the time to listen to the piece multiple times, first listening casually, then paying greater attention to the details pointed out above.
Look at the phrases Josquin chooses to accent, and ask yourself why he chose to do so.
Das Ave Maria
Ave Maria (Josquin Desprez)
Josquin des Prés
Ave Maria ... Virgo serena