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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 14 Josquin and the Humanists
Richard Taruskin

The greatest popularizer of the Josquin legend, however, was someone who was also concerned to popularize (or repopularize) Josquin’s music. This was Glareanus, the author of a great treatise that circulated piecemeal in manuscript for decades and was finally published in 1547 under the title Dodekachordon. Glareanus was a different sort of theorist from most of those whom we have encountered. He was neither a composer nor a practical musician but rather an all-round scholar of the purest humanistic type, a disciple of Desiderius Erasmus and a professor at the University of Freiburg im Briesgau in what is now the southwest corner of Germany, where he held chairs not in music but in poetry and theology. As a music theorist he consciously modeled himself on Boethius, the classical prototype of the encyclopedic humanist. But his actual musical views differed radically from everything Boethius had stood for.

Glareanus’s main theoretical innovation, reflected in the pseudo-Greeky title of his book (“The Twelve-Stringed Lyre”), lay in the recognition of four additional modes beyond the eight modes established by the Frankish theorists of Gregorian chant. These modes, which Glareanus christened Ionian and Aeolian (together with their plagal or “hypo-” forms), had their respective finals on C and A, and hence corresponded to what we now know as the major and minor scales. Neither was a necessary invention. Through the use of B-flat, a fully accredited tone in the gamut since at least the eleventh century, the Lydian had long since provided the theoretical model for the major and the Dorian for the minor. But Glareanus’s terminology made it unnecessary to account for the use of C and A as finals by calling them transpositions of other finals. Very typically for a humanist, Glareanus sought to represent his innovation as a return to authentic Greek practice. It was anything but that.

Glareanus illustrated all twelve modes by citing the works of Josquin, and he was among the first theorists to use mode theory (as adapted by himself) to analyze polyphonic music. As Glareanus conceived of modal polyphony, the various strands of a polyphonic texture were (usually) cast alternately in the authentic and plagal variants of the modal scale represented by the composition’s final. Typically, the structural pair of superius and tenor represented the authentic and the contratenors (altus and bassus) the plagal.

Recycling the Legend Back into Music

fig. 14-2 Heinrich Loris, who wrote as Henricus Glareanus, in a sketch by Hans Holbein found in the margin of a copy of Desiderius Erasmus’s Praise of Folly (1515) at the Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland.

Again, it is questionable whether Glareanus’s novel terms and methods contributed materially to the understanding of contemporary music. But he certainly did succeed in grounding contemporary music in a discourse of classical authority, turning Josquin into the musical equivalent of a classical master like Horace or Cicero. That being the essential humanist task, Glareanus, musically insignificant though he may appear, was culturally very significant indeed. It was he, if anyone, who brought “the Renaissance” to music, and made Josquin des Prez the first “Renaissance” composer.

Glareanus’s anecdotes are mainly of the “aristocracy of genius” variety, centering on Josquin’s reputed service at the court of King Louis XII of France, and on the audacity, tempered with wit, with which the composer supposedly comported himself in the presence of his royal patron. To remind the king of a forgotten promise, for example, Josquin is said to have composed a motet on the words Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo (“Remember these thy words unto thy servant”) from the very lengthy Psalm 118. And when the king, thus reminded, made his promise good, “then Josquin, having experienced the liberality of a ruler, immediately began, as an act of gratitude, another Psalm”9 —a motet on the words Bonitatem fecisti servo tuo, Domine (“Thou hast dealt well with Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word”), which actually come from the same Psalm.

By now, this second motet is definitely known not to be a work of Josquin’s. Bonitatem fecisti is securely attributed to a younger, minor contemporary of Josquin named Elzéar Genet, alias Carpentras, under whose name it was published in 1514 by the very authoritative Petrucci, in a volume called Motetti della corona (“Crown motets”) that supposedly contained the repertory of the French court chapel, including Memor esto. There is, however, a manuscript that attributes both motets to Josquin: a songbook compiled in the 1540s by another Swiss humanist named Aegidius Tschudi, where the two motets mentioned in Glareanus’s story are entered side by side. And who was Tschudi? A pupil and disciple of Glareanus.

The whole story begins to look fishy. Having noticed the textual relationship between a motet of Josquin’s and a motet of Carpentras, Glareanus (or some member of his immediate circle) probably invented the tale that linked them so symmetrically around Josquin and the King, in the process fabricating the second attribution to Josquin as well. It is another case, and a very telling one, of se non `e vero, `e ben trovato (“not true, perhaps, but well made up”), and what it reveals, precisely, is how the Josquin legend was constructed: when, and why, and by whom.


(9) Glareanus, Dodekachordon (Basle, 1547), p. 441.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 14 Josquin and the Humanists." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-014004.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 14 Josquin and the Humanists. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 Jan. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-014004.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 14 Josquin and the Humanists." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 Jan. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-014004.xml