Josquin: Missa Ad fugum and Missa Sine nomine

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Program: #09-45, Air Date: 11/02/09

As Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars says of his latest project: "Who is interested in mathematical scaffolding which most people can't hear?....I knew that, like every composer of genius, Josquin would relish the challenge." NOTE: All of the music on this program is from the recording Missa Sine nomine and Missa ad fugam with the Tallis Scholars directed by Peter Phillips on the Gimell label, and is Gimell CD GIM039.

Peter Phillips on Josquin:

In his unprecedented stature and his undisputed pre-eminence in the eyes of his contemporaries and posterity, Josquin has never failed to remind recent historians of Beethoven, who was similarly regarded 300 years later, and who retains a similar quasi-legendary aura' (Richard Taruskin).

If one were looking for a superstar among Renaissance composers - and identifying such people does no harm to the subject as a whole - Josquin is unquestionably the front runner. He was a star in his lifetime, travelling more widely, being paid better and having more desirable employment than anyone else; and he has become a star again more recently. It is true that in the centuries in between it has been Palestrina and Tallis who were performed more consistently, where Josquin was forgotten, but this was on account of their simple music, which choirs of any ability could sing. Josquin didn't write any simple music. All his music is complex, intellectually and vocally, posing problems which have only recently been found to represent a supreme challenge. As with Beethoven it is now recognized that facing up to Josquin's message can bring unparalleled rewards; and, more than anywhere else, it is now clear it was in his Mass settings that he expressed that message at its most fluent.

Peter Phillips on this recording:

This recording presents the only two Masses by Josquin which are entirely based on canons. He wrote other single movements which are canons - the second Agnus Dei in his Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales is an especially complex example and is recorded on CDGIM 019 - but only here did he explore the possibilities as exhaustively as the idiom would allow. To write this kind of music may seem academic to the modern mind: who is interested in mathematical scaffolding which most people can't hear? But Josquin was interested in it - as were many later composers, from Bach to Brahms to Webern - and it is clear that, like every composer of genius, Josquin relishes the challenge inherent in being tied down to a pattern.

These two settings seem to stand at the extreme ends of Josquin's career. The Missa Ad fugam, an early work, is the easier of the two to follow; the Missa Sine nomine, which may have been Josquin's last Mass-setting before the great Missa Pange lingua, shows the fruits of his experience in mathematical writing like no other. Indeed, Ad fugam is so much more straightforward than Sine nomine that it is possible Josquin wrote the later work as a foil to the earlier, to show how much more he knew about handling this kind of composition by the end of his life. This would have been more important to him than we may recognize now: every Flemish composer up to Josquin's time had proved himself with canonic writing, Ockeghem being a leading example. If it is true that Josquin learnt from Ockeghem, it is possible that he saved up this tour de force just to show he could rival his master. In fact there does seem to be a personal note of this kind: at ‘Et incarnatus est' in the Credo Josquin quotes from his own lament on the death of Ockeghem, Nymphes des bois.

Josquin des Prez (c. 1450 to 1455 – August 27, 1521): Missa Sine nomine and Missa ad fugam.

Fr. Jerome Weber helpfully sent along a discography of the Masses of Josquin des Prez with references to J. F. Weber’s reviews in Fanfare:

This is a brief overview of the Josquin discography of masses. Some choice items are no longer available, but libraries and dealers will have copies.

  • Missa ad fugam (one recording): the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 039 (32:1) is the first recording.
  • Missa Allez regretz (no longer attributed to Josquin; not recorded).
  • Missa Ave maris stella (five recordings): A Sei Voci, Astrée E 8507 (17:3) and the Taverner Consort, EMI 754659 (17:1) are excellent.
  • Missa D’ung aultre amer (one recording): David Skinner’s new ensemble Alamire, Obsidian CD 701 (33:1) has made the first recording.
  • Missa Da pacem (no longer attributed to Josquin): three old recordings.
  • Missa de beata Virgine (nine recordings): Theatre of Voices, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907136 (19:1) and A Sei Voci, Astrée E 8560 (19:5) are very fine.
  • Missa Di dadi (two recordings): Medieval Ensemble, L’Oiseau-Lyre 475911-2 (8:6, later issued on CD) uses nine male voices unaccompanied. I have not heard René Clemencic’s newer recording using boys, men, and instruments.
  • Missa Faisant regretz (four recordings): the Clerks’ Group, Gaudeamus CDGAU 302 (25:6) is similar to the Medieval Ensemble on the preceding disc, and both are fine.
  • Missa Fortuna desperata (three recordings): the Clerks’ Group, Gaudeamus CDGAU 220 (25:2) and the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 042 (32:6) replaced Joel Cohen’s LP recording, which used instruments.
  • Missa Gaudeamus (five recordings): the three small ensembles on CD are all fine. The mixed voices of Capella Pratensis, Jubal 90117 and De Labyrintho, Stradivarius STR 33722 (30:1) contrast with A Sei Voci, Astrée E 8612, which uses children with six men’s voices.
  • Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae (11 recordings): the Hilliard Ensemble, Angel 749960 (14:1) and Pomerium, Glissando 779043 (27:6) are superb. I have not heard De Labyrintho, Stradivarius STR 33764.
  • Missa L’ami baudichon (one or two recordings): Capella Alamire, Dorian DIS 80131 is fine. The only other recording was on Gaudeamus 111074, cited by Edward Lowinsky, but it lacked the Credo; I have never seen a copy and do not even know the identity of the performers.
  • Missa L’homme armé sexti toni (seven recordings): the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 019 (13:1) and A Sei Voci, Astrée E 8809 (25:3) are both superb.
  • Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales (four recordings): generally considered to be the earlier of the two settings based on the song (the Astrée annotator disagrees), this mass is coupled with the previous one on both fine CDs.
  • Missa La sol fa re mi (three recordings): the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 009 (10:4) is matched by the fine Capella Pratensis, Ricercar RIC 159166, which presents in its notes the latest research on the creation of the work, a fascinating story involving the Byzantine court.
  • Missa Malheur me bat (four recordings): the Clerks’ Group, Gaudeamus CDGAU 306 (26:4) and the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 042 (32:6) are superb.
  • Missa Mater patris et filia (three recordings): one of two masses of the remaining 18 that raises doubts about its authenticity, the most recent recording is Chanticleer, Chanticleer Records CR 8808.
  • Missa Pange lingua (19 recordings): the last, greatest, and most frequently recorded of the masses has had only a few really fine interpretations. I prefer the Westminster Cathedral choir of men and boys, Hyperion CDA 66614 (16:5), but the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 009 (10:4) is also very fine. I have not heard A Sei Voci, Astrée E 8639.
  • Missa sine nomine (two recordings): the Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM 039 (32:1) replaced the old Planchart recording.
  • Missa Une mousse de Biscaye (one recording): the other of the remaining 18 masses whose authenticity is being questioned, this has not been recorded since Harold Brown’s Renaissance Chorus issued it on Baroque 9002 in 1959.

Avid collectors will now have all of the last dozen masses of Josquin in fine interpretations, as well as the recent premieres of Missa ad fugam (32:1) and Missa D’ung aultre amer (33:1). Of the remainder, Missa Di dadi is available on two CDs and Missa L’ami baudichon, the earliest Mass by common agreement, can be heard on an interesting program of early works under Peter Urquhart. Of the dubious masses, Missa Une mousse de Biscaye exists only on a 1959 LP and Missa Mater patris on an aging Chanticleer CD. Of the inauthentic masses, Missa Da pacem has not been done in many years and Missa Allez regretz has not been done at all, though students deserve to be able to hear and judge them. The duplication of later works leaves us poorer for a more complete hearing of the pivotal composer of the 15th century, but we are gradually closing the gap.

J. F. Weber

Composer Info

Josquin des Prez (c. 1450 to 1455 – August 27, 1521)

CD Info

Gimell CD GIM039