Johannes Ockeghem

Johannes Ockeghem

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Johannes Ockeghem (1410–1425, Saint-Ghislain
Saint-Ghislain
Saint-Ghislain is a Walloon municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. On 1 January 2006 the municipality had 22,466 inhabitants. The total area is 70.18 km², giving a population density of 320 inhabitants per km²....

, Belgium – February 6, 1497, Tours
Tours
Tours is a city in central France, the capital of the Indre-et-Loire department.It is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Touraine, the region around Tours, is known for its wines, the alleged perfection of its local spoken French, and for the...

, France) was the most famous composer of the Franco-Flemish School
Franco-Flemish School
In music, the Franco-Flemish School or more precisely the Netherlandish School refers, somewhat imprecisely, to the style of polyphonic vocal music composition in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, and to the composers who wrote it...

 in the last half of the 15th century, and is often considered the most influential composer between Dufay
Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century.-Early life:From the evidence of his will, he was probably born in Beersel, in the vicinity of...

 and Josquin des Prez
Josquin Des Prez
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

. In addition to being a renowned composer, he was also an honored singer, choirmaster, and teacher.

Life


The spelling of Ockeghem's name comes from a supposed autograph of his which survived as late as 1885, and as reported by E. Giraudet, a historian in Tours; the document has since been lost. In 15th century sources, the spelling "Okeghem" predominates.

The birthdate of Ockeghem is unknown; dates as early as 1410, and as late as 1430 have been proposed. The earlier date is based on the possibility that he knew Binchois
Gilles Binchois
Gilles de Binche , also known as Gilles de Bins , was a Franco-Flemish composer, one of the earliest members of the Burgundian School, and one of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century...

 in Hainaut
County of Hainaut
The County of Hainaut was a historical region in the Low Countries with its capital at Mons . In English sources it is often given the archaic spelling Hainault....

 before the older composer moved from Mons
Mons
Mons is a Walloon city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut, of which it is the capital. The Mons municipality includes the old communes of Cuesmes, Flénu, Ghlin, Hyon, Nimy, Obourg, Baudour , Jemappes, Ciply, Harmignies, Harveng, Havré, Maisières, Mesvin, Nouvelles,...

 to Lille
Lille
Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

 in 1423. Ockeghem would have to have been younger than 15 at the time. This particular speculation derives from Ockeghem's reference, in the lament he wrote on the death of Binchois in 1460, to a chanson by Binchois dated to that time. In this lament Ockeghem not only honored the older composer by imitating his style, but also revealed some useful biographical information about him. The comment by the poet Guillaume Crétin
Guillaume Crétin
-Life:He was treasurer of the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, then cantor of the Sainte-Chapelle de Paris and ordinary almoner to Francis I of France....

, in the lament he wrote on Ockeghem's death in 1497, "it was a great shame that a composer of his talents should die before 100 years old", is also often taken as evidence for the earlier birthdate for Ockeghem.

In 1993, documents dating from 1607 were found stating that "Jan Hocquegam" was a native of Saint-Ghislain
Saint-Ghislain
Saint-Ghislain is a Walloon municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. On 1 January 2006 the municipality had 22,466 inhabitants. The total area is 70.18 km², giving a population density of 320 inhabitants per km²....

 in the County of Hainaut
County of Hainaut
The County of Hainaut was a historical region in the Low Countries with its capital at Mons . In English sources it is often given the archaic spelling Hainault....

, which was confirmed by references in 16th century documents. This suggests that, though he first appears in records in Flanders, he was a native speaker of Picard
Picard language
Picard is a language closely related to French, and as such is one of the larger group of Romance languages. It is spoken in two regions in the far north of France – Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy – and in parts of the Belgian region of Wallonia, the district of Tournai and a part of...

. Previously, most biographies surmised that he was born in East Flanders
East Flanders
East Flanders is a province of Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium. It borders on the Netherlands and in Belgium on the provinces of Antwerp, Flemish Brabant , of Hainaut and of West Flanders...

, either in the town after which he was named (present-day Okegem, from which his ancestors must have come) or in the neighboring town of Dendermonde
Dendermonde
Dendermonde is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of East Flanders in the Denderstreek. The municipality comprises the city of Dendermonde proper and the towns of Appels, Baasrode, Grembergen, Mespelare, Oudegem, Schoonaarde, and Sint-Gillis-bij-Dendermonde...

, where the surname Ockeghem occurred in the 14th and 15th century. Occasionally, Bavay
Bavay
Bavay is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.It lies 15 m. ESE of Valenciennes by railway.-History:Under the name of Bagacum or Bavacum, the town was the capital of the Nervii and, under the Roman Empire, an important center of roads, the meeting-place of which was marked by a...

, now in Nord department in France, was suggested as his birthplace as well.

Details of his early life are lacking. Like many composers in this period, he started his musical career as a chorister, although the exact location of his education is unknown: Mons
Mons
Mons is a Walloon city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut, of which it is the capital. The Mons municipality includes the old communes of Cuesmes, Flénu, Ghlin, Hyon, Nimy, Obourg, Baudour , Jemappes, Ciply, Harmignies, Harveng, Havré, Maisières, Mesvin, Nouvelles,...

, a town near Saint-Ghislain that had at least two churches with competent music schools, has been suggested. The first actual documented record of Ockeghem is from the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe cathedral in Antwerp, where he was employed in June 1443 as a "left-hand choir singer ("left-handers" sang composed music, "right-handers" sang chant). He probably sang under the direction of Johannes Pullois
Johannes Pullois
Johannes Pullois was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in both the Low Countries and Italy...

, whose employment also dates from that year. This church was a distinguished establishment, and it was likely here that Ockeghem became familiar with the English compositional style, which influenced late 15th-century musical practice on the continent.

Between 1446 and 1448 Ockeghem served Charles I, Duke of Bourbon
Charles I, Duke of Bourbon
Charles de Bourbon was the oldest son of John I, Duke of Bourbon and Marie, Duchess of Auvergne.He was Count of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis from 1424, and Duke of Bourbon and Auvergne from 1434 to his death, although due to the imprisonment of his father after the Battle of Agincourt, he acquired...

, at his court in Moulins
Moulins, Allier
Moulins is a commune in central France, capital of the Allier department.Among its many tourist attractions are the Maison Mantin the Anne de Beaujeu Museum.-History:...

, now in central France. During this service he became the first among the singing chaplains to appear in the court records. Around 1452 he moved to Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 where he served as maestro di cappella to the French court, as well as treasurer of the Abbey of St. Martin-de-Tourshttp://www.basiliquesaintmartin.com/index.php?page=37&lg=1 at Tours
Tours
Tours is a city in central France, the capital of the Indre-et-Loire department.It is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Touraine, the region around Tours, is known for its wines, the alleged perfection of its local spoken French, and for the...

. In addition to serving at the French court – both for Charles VII
Charles VII of France
Charles VII , called the Victorious or the Well-Served , was King of France from 1422 to his death, though he was initially opposed by Henry VI of England, whose Regent, the Duke of Bedford, ruled much of France including the capital, Paris...

 and Louis XI
Louis XI of France
Louis XI , called the Prudent , was the King of France from 1461 to 1483. He was the son of Charles VII of France and Mary of Anjou, a member of the House of Valois....

 – he held posts at Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris , also known as Notre Dame Cathedral, is a Gothic, Roman Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, France. It is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris: that is, it is the church that contains the cathedra of...

 and at St. Benoît. He is known to have traveled to Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 in 1470, as part of a diplomatic mission for the King, which was a complex affair attempting both to dissuade Spain from joining an alliance with England and Burgundy against France, and to arrange a marriage between Isabella I of Castile
Isabella I of Castile
Isabella I was Queen of Castile and León. She and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon brought stability to both kingdoms that became the basis for the unification of Spain. Later the two laid the foundations for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor...

 and Charles, Duke of Guyenne (the brother of king Louis XI). After the death of Louis XI (1483), not much is known for certain about Ockeghem's whereabouts, though it is known that he went to Bruges
Bruges
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country....

 and Tours, and he probably died in the latter town since he left a will there. An indication of the renown in which Ockeghem was held is the number of laments written on his death in 1497; among the most famous of the musical settings of these many poems is Nymphes des bois
Nymphes des bois
Nymphes des bois, also known as La Déploration de Johannes Ockeghem, is a lament composed by Josquin des Prez on the occasion of the death of his predecessor Johannes Ockeghem in February 1497. The piece, based on a poem by Jean Molinet and including the funeral text Requiem Aeternam as a cantus...

by Josquin des Prez.

Ockeghem probably studied with Gilles Binchois
Gilles Binchois
Gilles de Binche , also known as Gilles de Bins , was a Franco-Flemish composer, one of the earliest members of the Burgundian School, and one of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century...

, and at least was closely associated with him at the Burgundian court. Since Antoine Busnois
Antoine Busnois
Antoine Busnois was a French composer and poet of the early Renaissance Burgundian School. While also noted as a composer of sacred music, such as motets, he was one of the most renowned 15th-century composers of secular chansons...

 wrote a motet in honor of Ockeghem sometime before 1467, it is probable that those two were acquainted as well; and writers of the time often link Dufay, Busnois and Ockeghem. Although Ockeghem's musical style differs considerably from that of the older generation, it is probable that he acquired his basic technique from them, and as such can be seen as a direct link from the Burgundian style to the next generation of Netherlanders, such as Obrecht
Jacob Obrecht
Jacob Obrecht was a Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was the most famous composer of masses in Europe in the late 15th century, being eclipsed by only Josquin des Prez after his death.-Life:...

 and Josquin.

Music and influence



Ockeghem was not a prolific composer, given the length of his career and extent of his reputation, and some of his work was lost. Many works formerly attributed to Ockeghem are now presumed to be by other composers; Ockeghem's total output of reliably attributed compositions, as with many of the most famous composers of the time (such as Josquin), has shrunk with time. Surviving reliably-attributed works include some 14 masses
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

 (including a Requiem
Requiem (Ockeghem)
The Requiem, by Johannes Ockeghem , is a polyphonic setting of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, the Missa pro defunctis, the Mass for the dead. It is the earliest polyphonic setting of the Requiem Mass to have survived, and remains one of Ockeghem's most famous and often-performed compositions...

 mass), an isolated Credo (Credo sine nomine), 5 motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s, a motet-chanson
Motet-chanson
The motet-chanson was a specialized musical form of the Renaissance, developed in Milan during the 1470s and 1480s, which combined aspects of the contemporary motet and chanson....

 (a deploration on the death of Binchois), and 21 chanson
Chanson
A chanson is in general any lyric-driven French song, usually polyphonic and secular. A singer specialising in chansons is known as a "chanteur" or "chanteuse" ; a collection of chansons, especially from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, is also known as a chansonnier.-Chanson de geste:The...

s. Thirteen of Ockeghem's masses are preserved in the Chigi codex
Chigi codex
The Chigi codex is a music manuscript originating in Flanders. According to Herbert Kellman, it was created sometime between 1498 and 1503, probably at the behest of Philip I of Castile. It is currently housed in the Vatican Library under the call number Chigiana, C. VIII...

, a Flemish manuscript ca. 1500. His Missa pro Defunctis is the earliest surviving polyphonic Requiem mass (a setting by Dufay, possibly earlier, has been lost). Some of his works, alongside compositions by his contemporaries, are included in Petrucci's Harmonice musices odhecaton
Harmonice Musices Odhecaton
The Harmonice Musices Odhecaton was an anthology of secular songs published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1501 in Venice...

(1501), the first collection of music to be published using moveable type.

Dating Ockeghem's works is controversial, as there are almost no external references allowing precise dating, excepting of course the death of Binchois (1460) for which Ockeghem composed a motet-chanson. The Missa Caput
Missa Caput
The Missa Caput was a musical setting of the Roman Catholic mass, dating from the 1440s, by an anonymous English composer. It circulated widely on the European continent in the mid-15th century, and was one of the best-loved musical works of the early Renaissance in Europe, judging by the number...

is almost certainly an early work, since it follows on an anonymous English mass of the same title dated to the 1440s, and his late masses may include the Missa Ma maistresse and Missa Fors seulement, in view of both his innovative treatment of the cantus firmus, and his tendency to write more and more homogeneous textures later in his life.

Ockeghem used the cantus firmus
Cantus firmus
In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.The plural of this Latin term is , though the corrupt form canti firmi is also attested...

 technique in about half of his masses; the earliest of these masses use head-motifs at the start of the individual movements, a practice which was common around 1440 but which was archaic after around mid-century. Two of his masses, Missa Ma maistresse and Missa Fors seulement, are based on chansons he wrote himself, and use more than one voice of the chanson, foreshadowing the parody mass
Parody mass
A parody mass is a musical setting of the mass, typically from the 16th century, that uses multiple voices of another pre-existing piece of music, such as a fragment of a motet or a secular chanson, as part of its melodic material. It is distinguished from the two other most prominent types of...

 techniques of the 16th century. In his remaining masses, including the Missa Mi-mi, Missa cuiusvis toni, and Missa prolationum
Missa prolationum
The Missa prolationum is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass, by Johannes Ockeghem, dating from the second half of the 15th century...

, no borrowed material has been found, and the works seem to have been freely composed.

Ockeghem would sometimes place borrowed material in the lowest voice, such as in the Missa Caput, one of three masses written in the mid-15th century based on that fragment of chant from the English Sarum Rite
Sarum Rite
The Sarum Rite was a variant of the Roman Rite widely used for the ordering of Christian public worship, including the Mass and the Divine Office...

. Other characteristics of Ockeghem's compositional technique include his liking for varying the rhythmic shape of voices, so as to maintain their independence.

A strong influence on Josquin des Prez
Josquin Des Prez
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

 and the subsequent generation of Netherlanders, Ockeghem was famous throughout Europe for his expressive music, although he was equally renowned for his technical prowess. Two of the most famous contrapuntal achievements of the 15th century include the astonishing Missa prolationum
Missa prolationum
The Missa prolationum is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass, by Johannes Ockeghem, dating from the second half of the 15th century...

, which consists entirely of mensuration canons
Prolation canon
In music, a prolation canon or mensuration canon is a type of canon, a musical composition wherein the main melody is accompanied by one or more imitations of that melody in other voices. Not only do the voices sing or play the same melody, they do so at different speeds...

, and the 'Missa cuiusvis toni', designed to be performed in any of the different modes
Musical mode
In the theory of Western music since the ninth century, mode generally refers to a type of scale. This usage, still the most common in recent years, reflects a tradition dating to the middle ages, itself inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music.The word encompasses several additional...

, but even these technique-oriented masterpieces demonstrate his insightful use of vocal ranges and uniquely expressive tonal language. Being a renowned bass
Bass (voice type)
A bass is a type of male singing voice and possesses the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C...

 singer himself, his use of wide-ranging and rhythmically active bass lines sets him apart from many of the other composers in the Netherlandish Schools.

To commemorate his death, Josquin des Prez
Josquin Des Prez
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

 composed the motet La déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem, a setting of the poem Nymphes des bois
Nymphes des bois
Nymphes des bois, also known as La Déploration de Johannes Ockeghem, is a lament composed by Josquin des Prez on the occasion of the death of his predecessor Johannes Ockeghem in February 1497. The piece, based on a poem by Jean Molinet and including the funeral text Requiem Aeternam as a cantus...

by Jean Molinet
Jean Molinet
Jean Molinet was a French poet, chronicler, and composer. He is best remembered for his prose translation of Roman de la rose.Born in Desvres, which is now part of France, he studied in Paris...

. An unusually large number of laments appeared after the death of this great composer. Some of the authors of these poems included Jean Molinet and Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus , known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, and a theologian....

; Johannes Lupi
Johannes Lupi
Johannes Lupi was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. A representative of the generation after Josquin, he was a minor but skilled composer of polyphony who was mainly active in Cambrai.- Life :...

 provided another musical setting.

Masses

  1. Missa sine nomine
  2. Missa sine nomine (incomplete: only Kyrie, Gloria and Credo exist)
  3. Missa Au travail suis
  4. Missa Caput
    Missa Caput
    The Missa Caput was a musical setting of the Roman Catholic mass, dating from the 1440s, by an anonymous English composer. It circulated widely on the European continent in the mid-15th century, and was one of the best-loved musical works of the early Renaissance in Europe, judging by the number...

  5. Missa cuiusvis toni
  6. Missa De plus en plus
  7. Missa Ecce ancilla Domini
  8. Missa Fors seulement (has not survived complete: only Kyrie, Gloria and Credo remain)
  9. Missa L'homme armé
    L'homme armé
    L'homme armé was a French secular song from the time of the Renaissance. It was the most popular tune used for musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass: over 40 separate compositions entitled Missa L'homme armé survive from the period....

  10. Missa Ma maistresse (only Kyrie and Gloria extant)
  11. Missa Mi-mi (also known as the Missa quarti toni)
  12. Missa prolationum
    Missa prolationum
    The Missa prolationum is a musical setting of the Ordinary of the Mass, by Johannes Ockeghem, dating from the second half of the 15th century...

  13. Missa quinti toni
  14. Missa pro defunctis
    Requiem (Ockeghem)
    The Requiem, by Johannes Ockeghem , is a polyphonic setting of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, the Missa pro defunctis, the Mass for the dead. It is the earliest polyphonic setting of the Requiem Mass to have survived, and remains one of Ockeghem's most famous and often-performed compositions...

    (Requiem)
  15. Credo sine nomine (Mass section)

Motet-chanson

  1. Mort tu as navré/Miserere (lamentation on the death of Gilles Binchois
    Gilles Binchois
    Gilles de Binche , also known as Gilles de Bins , was a Franco-Flemish composer, one of the earliest members of the Burgundian School, and one of the three most famous composers of the early 15th century...

    , probably written in 1460)

Three voices

  1. Aultre Venus estes
  2. Au travail suis (attrib: possibly by Barbingant)
  3. Baisiés moy dont fort
  4. D'ung aultre amer
  5. Fors seulement contre
  6. Fors seulement
    Fors seulement
    Fors seulement is a French chanson, popular as a basis for variations and as a cantus firmus. An early version is attributed to Ockeghem - this is sometimes called Fors seulement l'attente to distinguish it from his similarly titled Fors seulement contre.Brumel wrote a polytextual version,...

     l'attente
  7. Il ne m'en chault plus
  8. La despourveue et la bannie
  9. L'autre d'antan
  10. Les desléaux ont la saison
  11. Ma bouche rit
  12. Ma maistresse
  13. Prenez sur moi
  14. Presque transi
  15. Quant de vous seul
  16. Qu'es mi vida preguntays
  17. Se vostre cuer eslongne
  18. Tant fuz gentement resjouy
  19. Ung aultre l'a

Example



Recordings

  • Flemish Masters, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-04413, performed by Zephyrus. Includes the Ockeghem Alma Redemptoris mater, the Obrecht Missa Sub tuum presidium, as well as motets by Willaert, Clemens non Papa, Josquin, Mouton, and Gombert.
  • Angelus, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-00338, performed by Zephyrus. Includes the Ockeghem Ave Maria ... benedicta tu, as well as motets by Palestrina, Josquin, Victoria, Rore, Morales, Clemens non Papa, Lassus, de Wert, and Andrea Gabrieli
  • Oh Flanders Free. Music of the Flemish Renaissance: Ockeghem, Josquin, Susato, De la Rue
    Pierre de La Rue
    Pierre de la Rue , called Piersson, was a Franco-Flemish composer and singer of the Renaissance. A member of the same generation as Josquin des Prez, and a long associate of the Habsburg-Burgundian musical chapel, he ranks with Agricola, Brumel, Compère, Isaac, Obrecht, and Weerbeke as one of the...

    .
    Capilla Flamenca
    Capilla Flamenca
    Capilla Flamenca is a vocal and instrumental early music consort based in Leuven, Belgium. The group specialises in 14th to 16th Century music from Flanders and takes its name from the choir of the court chapel of Emperor Charles V...

    . Alamire LUB 03, Naxos 8.554516. Contains a recording of Ma maistresse and D'ung aultre amer by Johannes Ockeghem.
  • Margarete - Maximilian I. Musik um 1500. Capilla Flamenca
    Capilla Flamenca
    Capilla Flamenca is a vocal and instrumental early music consort based in Leuven, Belgium. The group specialises in 14th to 16th Century music from Flanders and takes its name from the choir of the court chapel of Emperor Charles V...

    with La Caccia, Schola Cantorum Cantate Domino Aalst, Schola Gregoriana Lovaniensis. ORF Shop CD 265 (2 CDs). Contains a recording of Petite camusette by J. Ockeghem.
  • "Missa Cuiusvis Toni", æon, ÆCD 0753 (2 CDs-2007), performed by Ensemble Musica Nova, Lucien Kandel; First recording of the four versions.

External links