Josquin des Prez (c. 1450-1521)

Josquin des Prez was the favorite composer of his contemporary Martin Luther (an accomplished composer himself) who said: “Josquin is master of the notes, which must express what he desires: other composers must do as the notes dictate”. A Florentine writer Cosimo Bartoli, writing 25 years after the composer’s death (Josquin died in 1521 at the age of eighty) compares him to Michelangelo (in a time when music of previous decades was most often considered irrelevant.)
Other commentators have accurately observed that for the nearly a century after Josquin’s death, a period of rich and varied compositional activity, the basic assumptions about the grounding principles of musical technique changed less than any time in the history of western music, a situation partially attributable to an acknowledgement of Josquin’s achievement of an ‘ideal’ perfection, clarity, formal balance and richness of expression.

"Dominus regnavit" is a setting of the Vulgate text of Psalm 93 (then numbered 92). It’s materials are of a simplicity and simple-mindedness only attempted by the best composers. It is principally a set of canons at the fifth, each shaped to its line of text, internally exact such that the soprano and tenors are actually singing in a different key from the basses and altos. However this is a secondary, unremarkable aural feature, serving mainly to make many elegant phrase-ends. The main impression is of naturalness and freshness – masking a highly polished technical command.

©John Harbison

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