CHAPTER 21 JOSQUIN DES PREZ AND MUSIC IN FERRARA FERRARA • Ferrara was a Renaissance city-state in northern Italy ruled by the despotic d’Este family, the leaders of which were professional soldiers, yet also active patrons of learned music. Important musicians who at one time or another associated with the d’Este family included major composers such as Josquin des Prez, Jacob Obrecht, Adrian Willaert, Cipriano de Rore, and Carlo Gesualdo. By the end of the sixteenth century the court of Ferrara employed as many as forty full-time musicians. JOSQUIN DES PREZ • Josquin des Prez (c1450-1521) was one finest composers of the Renaissance, or indeed of any age. Like many of the great composers of his generation, he was born in the Burgundian lands near the border of modern-day France and Belgium. First he worked as a singer at courts in France and then, from the mid 1480s on, in Italy, appearing in Milan, Mantua, Rome, and Ferrara. While he served only a short time (1503-1504) as master of the chapel in Ferrara, he left a legacy of two extraordinary compositions. Duke Hercules At the end of the fifteenth century, Ferrara was ruled by Duke Hercules d’Este (r. 1471-1505), a professional soldier with a passionate interest in music. In 1503 Hercules engaged Josquin des Prez to serve as leader of his chapel. This portrait shows Duke Hercules in full military armor. JOSQUIN’S MISSA HERCULES DUX FERRARIE • At some point during his time in Ferrara Josquin composed a Mass in Duke Hercules’ honor by using a soggetto cavato dalle vocali (“subject cut out from the vowels”)—the vowels in Hercules’ name and title were equated with syllables in the Guidonian hexachords. Thus Hercules dux Ferrarie produced “re,” “ut,” “re,” “ut,” “re,” “fa,” “mi,” “re.” Other composers in the history of music who also make use of the technique of soggetto cavato include Bach, Schumann, Berg, and Shostakovich. Josquin’s soggetto cavato as it appears in all three of the Guidonian hexachords Josquin set his soggetto cavato within only the natural and hard hexachords (and the natural an octave above), and then strung them together. This is the sequence of notes that Josquin chose to employ to unify the five parts of the Ordinary of his Mass and honor his patron, Duke Hercules. The end of the Sanctus of Josquin’s Missa Herucles dux Ferrarie with the soggetto cavato placed in the tenor voice and driving purposefully toward the final cadence. JOSQUIN’S MOTET MISERERE MEI, DEUS • Josquin des Prez was renowned above all else as a composer of motets. He was among the first composers to assess the meaning of the sacred text and then express it vividly through music, just as the madrigalists were beginning to do with the profane text of the madrigal. • One of Josquin’s most powerful motets is his Miserere mei, Deus (Have mercy upon me, O Lord; 1503), a setting of Psalm 50, one of the seven so- called Penitential Psalms, seven psalms among the one hundred fifty of the Psalter that are especially remorseful in tone. The psalm Miserere mei, Deus was traditionally sung to a psalm tone at the heart of which was a recitation (reciting) tone. Josquin refashioned this slightly and made this succession of pitches serve as the structural backbone of the motet. At the end of each verse the tenor voice enters with the mournful wail “Have mercy upon me, O Lord.” Josquin took this procedure--ending a section of text with the refrain “Miserere me, Deus” --directly from a sermon that Savonarola penned while awaiting his own execution in Florence. The use of a mournful refrain, the somber Phrygian mode, and much word painting results in a composition of extraordinary power and beauty.