Chapter 9. Franco-Flemish Composers, 1450-1520

Chapter Outline



The latter fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries saw the continuing prominence of composers from northern France, Flanders, and the Netherlands, who served courts and cities throughout France, the Low Countries, Italy, Spain, Germany, Bohemia, and Austria. The generation of composers born around 1420 and active until the 1490s inherited both the new international language and some surviving medieval traits, such as the formes fixes, cantus-firmus structure, and stratified counterpoint based on a structural tenor. Their newer style was marked by wider ranges, greater equality between voices, and increased use of imitation. The following generation, born around 1450 and active through about 1520, brought an end to the formes fixes, a growing interest in imitative and homophonic textures, and a new focus on fitting music to words with appropriate declamation, imagery, and expression. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. Political Change and Consolidation (see map, HWM Figure 9.1)
    1. France
      1. Defeated England in the Hundred Years’ War
      2. The duchy of Burgundy came under control of the king of France.
      3. By ca. 1525, France was a strong, centralized state.
    2. Spain
      1. The marriage of Queen Isabella of Castile and Léon and Ferdinand of Aragon united north-central and eastern Spain.
      2. Isabella and Ferdinand in 1492
        1. Conquered the Moors, taking over southern Spain
        2. Expelled the Jews from Spain
        3. Sponsored Columbus’s journey, beginning the era of European colonization
    3. Hapsburg Empire
      1. United with Spain through marriage in the sixteenth century
      2. Ruled Austria, the Low Countries, southern Italy, Spain, and Spanish America
    4. Italy
      1. Invaded by France in 1494
      2. Continued to be composed of independent city-states and dominated by foreigners until the nineteenth century
      3. Wealthy Italian courts continued to hire musicians trained in the north.
  2. Ockeghem and Busnoys
    1. Ockeghem and Busnoys were the most renowned composers of their generation.
    2. Jean de (or Johannes) Ockeghem, ca. 1420-1497 (see HWM biography, page 193, and HWM Figure 9.2)
      1. Sang in the Antwerp cathedral choir
      2. Served Charles I, duke of Bourbon, for a short time
      3. Served the kings of France from the 1450s to his retirement
        1. Entered the service in 1451
        2. 1454-1465: Held the post of chaplain
        3. 1464: Became a priest
        4. After 1465: Was master of the chapel
      4. Traveled a little, and had contact with Du Fay, Binchois, and Busnoys, but was not as cosmopolitan as Du Fay
      5. Composed relatively few works
        1. Masses, motets, chansons
        2. Developed his own style, synthesizing past, present, and his own style elements
        3. Known for his unique masses
    3. Antoine Busnoys (or Busnois, ca. 1430-1492)
      1. Served the Hapsburg Empire
      2. Known for his chansons
    4. Chansons
      1. Three-voice texture in treble-dominated style
      2. Use the formes fixes, especially rondeau
      3. Characteristics from Du Fay’s generation are still evident (smooth melodies, preference for thirds and sixths, careful dissonance treatment)
      4. New features
        1. Longer melodies
        2. More imitation
        3. Greater equality between the voices
        4. More frequent use of duple meter
      5. HWM Example 9.1, Je ne puis vivre by Busnoys
        1. Smooth, arching melody employing a wide range
        2. Constantly changing rhythms
        3. The contratenor is more singable than in Du Fay’s style.
  3. Masses
    1. Comparison with Du Fay
      1. Ockeghem and Busnoys were influenced by Du Fay.
      2. Du Fay quoted from Ockeghem and Busnoys’ Missa L’homme armé when he composed his mass on the same tenor.
    2. Vocal ranges (see HWM Example 9.2)
      1. Four-voice texture with a wide range
      2. Bassus voice goes a fourth lower than in Du Fay’s generation.
      3. Each voice sings a span of a twelfth or thirteenth.
      4. Passages in two- or three-voice texture contrast the dark, full texture resulting from the lower, wider ranges.
    3. Phrases are long, with few cadences and elision to smooth them.
    4. Cantus-firmus treatment (NAWM 37 or HWM Example 9.3)
      1. Both of Busnoys’ masses and seven of Ockeghem’s are cantus-firmus masses.
      2. Ockeghem’s Missa de plus en plus paraphrases the tenor.
        1. Rhythm not exactly the same as in the song
        2. Adds decorative notes
  4. Ockeghem’s masses
    1. Several motto masses
    2. One plainsong mass
    3. Requiem mass (also plainsong)
    4. Missa cuisvis toni (mass in any mode) can be sung in mode of 1, 3, 5, or 7 using different clef combinations and musica ficta.
    5. Missa prolationum (Prolation Mass, HWM Examples 9.4a and 9.4b)
      1. Technical tour de force
      2. Notated in two voices but sung in four
      3. Uses all four prolation signs, a different one in each voice
        1. Superius and alto sing the same music but in different meters
        2. Tenor and bass sing another melody, also in different meters
      4. Canon (Latin, “rule”)
        1. Deriving two or more voices from a single melody
        2. Voices may be delayed, inverted, or retrograde.
        3. Mensuration canon is when the “rule” is meter.
        4. Double canon is when there are two melodies treated according to a rule.
        5. Missa prolationum is both a mensuration canon and a double canon.
  5. The Next Generation of Franco-Flemish composers
    1. Three composers born at about the same time: Jacob Obrecht (1457 or 1458-1505), Henricus Isaac (ca. 1450-1517), and Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450-1521)
      1. Born in the Low Countries
      2. Trained in the Low Countries
      3. Traveled widely
    2. General traits
      1. Singable parts
      2. Each voice equal
      3. Bass became the foundation voice.
      4. Full triadic sonorities throughout, sometimes using triads at cadences
      5. Borrowed melodies are distributed through all the voices.
      6. Sacred genres: mass and motet
      7. Secular genres no longer limited to formes fixes
      8. More untexted (presumably instrumental) works
    3. Jacob Obrecht (see HWM Figure 9.3)
      1. Works
        1. Thirty cantus-firmus masses
        2. Twenty-eight motets
        3. Many chansons
        4. Songs in Dutch
        5. Instrumental works
      2. Imitation
        1. Used more often than in previous generation
        2. Point of imitation: quick series of imitative entrances (HWM Example 9.5)
      3. Clarity
        1. Clear tonal center, confirmed by cadences
        2. Clearly audible structure
    4. Henricus Isaac
      1. Worked for Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence and Emperor Maximilian I in Austria
      2. Works
        1. Thirty-five masses
        2. Fifty motets
        3. Choralis Constantinus, cycle of settings for the Proper for most of the church year
        4. Secular songs in French, Italian, and German
        5. Untexted works (probably instrumental)
      3. Homophonic texture
        1. Isaac encountered homophonic song in the carnival tradition of Florence.
        2. His songs in German (Lied, pl. Lieder) include homophonic texture borrowed from Florentine tradition.
        3. Homophonic texture became part of the sixteenth-century style.
      4. NAWM 38 (and HWM Example 9.6), Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen
        1. German secular song: Lied (pl. Lieder)
        2. Composed for court or elite circles but in a folk or popular style
        3. Homophonic with melody in the superius
        4. Strophic
        5. Cadences resolve to triads.
        6. Later became a chorale, O Welt, ich musss dich lassen (O world, I now must leave thee)
    5. Text-setting
      1. This generation was concerned with fitting music to the words.
      2. In their compositions, phrases of text could be grasped as an uninterrupted thought.
      3. Printed and handwritten music now had to be more precise in text underlay.
  6. Josquin Des Prez (ca. 1450-1521)
    1. Biography (see HWM biography, page 203, and HWM Figure 9.4)
      1. Most influential composer of his time
      2. His given name was Josquin Lebloitte; “des Prez” was a nickname.
      3. Probably born in northern France
      4. Served in the chapel of the duke of Anjou in the 1470s
      5. Ca. 1484-89: singer in the duke’s chapel in Milan
      6. 1489-95 or later: singer for the Sistine Chapel in Rome
      7. 1501-03: worked in France, possibly for King Louis XII
      8. 1503: appointed maestro di cappella to Duke Ercole I d’Este in Ferrara for a noble court and earned the highest salary in that court’s history
      9. 1504: left Ferrara, possibly to escape the plague, then took a position as provost at the church of Notre Dame at Condé-sur-l’Escaut, where he remained until his death.
    2. Works
      1. Eighteen masses
      2. Over fifty motets
      3. Sixty-five chansons (ten instrumental)
      4. Many other works attributed to him were probably composed by others.
    3. Fame (see HWM Source Readings, page 204)
      1. Martin Luther called him “Master of Notes” in 1538.
      2. Glareanus compared him to Homer.
      3. Cosimo Bartolo (1567) compared him to Michelangelo.
      4. Composers emulated his style.
      5. His works were performed for almost a century after his death.
      6. Publishers falsely attributed works to him in order to boost sales of their books.
    4. Motets (NAWM 39, Ave Maria . . . virgo serena)
      1. Style characteristics consistent with his generation:
        1. Texts drawn from Mass Proper or other sources
        2. Music freely composed, i.e., not based on chant
        3. Clarity in phrasing, form, and total organization
        4. Textures include imitation and homophony and are transparent throughout.
        5. Careful declamation of text
      2. Text depiction and expression: Josquin was the first major composer to use music to depict the meaning of the text.
      3. Ave Maria . . . virgo serena (NAWM 39)
        1. One of his earliest motets (1485) and one of his most popular
        2. Texture begins with point of imitation then constantly shifts in number of voices and between imitation and homophony.
        3. The text structure defines the musical sections, with each couplet or strophe given unique treatment.
        4. Rhythmic activity accelerates toward the conclusion of the first section (“drive to the cadence,” a technique he probably learned from Ockeghem).
        5. Two meter changes provide contrast.
        6. The final lines, “O mother of God, remember me. Amen,” are set in simple harmonies in homophonic texture.
        7. In Josquin’s time, this would have been performed by one to a few singers per part, but this motet is often performed by choirs today.
    5. Josquin’s masses
      1. Josquin composed masses using a variety of techniques.
        1. Most use a secular tune as a cantus firmus.
        2. Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales transposes the cantus firmus to successive degrees of the hexachord for each movement.
        3. Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae uses a soggetto cavato dalle vocali (“subject drawn from the vowels” of the hexachord syllables) as the theme.
      2. Imitation mass
        1. Sometimes also called “parody mass”
        2. Josquin’s Missa Malheur me bat borrows from all voices of the original polyphonic song.
        3. Resemblance to the original is strongest at the beginning and end of the new work.
        4. This technique works best when the source is composed for equal voices, i.e., imitative or homophonic.
        5. Became the most common type of mass after ca. 1520
    6. Paraphrase mass: Missa Pange lingua (NAWM 40)
      1. Based on a plainchant
        1. All four voices sing the source chant at some point.
        2. Phrases from the original generate motives for the new work.
        3. The original chant is paraphrased.
      2. Source chants chosen for their context, e.g., to honor a patron or a saint
      3. Imitation in paired voices, a characteristic of Josquin’s style
      4. The Credo highlights important words with homophony.
    7. Chansons
      1. New style in this generation
        1. Strophic texts, with virtually no use of the formes fixes
        2. Four- or five-voice texture, all voices meant to be sung
        3. All parts equal
        4. Employ imitation and homophony
      2. NAWM 41, Mille regretz
        1. Attributed to Josquin though perhaps not by him
        2. Representative of his style ca. 1520
        3. Each new phrase of text receives its own particular treatment; e.g., HWM Example 9.8 sets one phrase in paired imitation and the next in four-voice imitation.

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