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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 14 Josquin and the Humanists
Richard Taruskin

And for that he was supremely valued by the humanist musicians of the sixteenth century, who were inspired by Josquin’s example and propagated it zealously. Glareanus reproduced the whole motet in his treatise, ostensibly as an illustration of the Ionian mode with its final on C, but in fact as an example to his readers of “genius” at work. Its impact on Glareanus’s contemporaries was profound. Where Glareanus verbally proclaimed the work an emblem of perfected style, his friend and colleague the Swiss composer Ludwig Sennfl proclaimed it so by musical deed.

Sennfl (ca. 1486–1543) had been a pupil of Henricus Isaac, and succeeded his teacher as the court chapel composer to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. His Ave Maria … Virgo serena was published at Nuremberg in 1537, by which time Sennfl had joined the court and chapel establishment of Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria at Munich. In his Ave Maria motet, Sennfl did on a vast scale what we have already observed in miniature on the level of carmina and chanson arrangements. It is a gigantic “parody” or reworking of Josquin’s motet, in which the younger composer did everything in his considerable power to monumentalize the work of the older composer, and with it, posthumously monumentalize its creator.

The texture is expanded from four voices to six; the length of the work is trebled by means of overlapping imitative repetitions and transpositions of Josquin’s melodic motives; and most impressive of all, the opening six-note chant-derived motto that carries Gabriel’s words “Ave Maria” is turned into a motto that recurs like a clarion in the tenor part throughout the length of the piece. Josquin’s “Ave” had been to Mary, but Sennfl’s, clearly, was to Josquin. The younger composer’s resourcefulness in exhausting the contrapuntal potential of the motivic material bequeathed him by Josqin, and the finely wrought textures that balance imitative polyphony with rich harmony, are clearly meant to display both Josquin’s genius and his own. Sennfl not only admires Josquin’s legacy but claims it.


fig. 14-4 Ludwig Sennfl, drawn by Hans Schwarz in 1519.

A single excerpt, the final prayer (Ex. 14-7; compare Ex. 14-6e), will give an idea of the way sennfl replaces Josquin’s spareness with opulence: note particularly how Josquin’s ascetic open fifths at the concluding “Amen” have been enlarged into a gorgeous plagal cadence.


ex. 14-7 Ludwig Sennfl, Ave Maria… Virgo serena, mm. 76-80

Even before Sennfl paid his tribute to Josquin’s emblematic motet, it had been reworked into an entire Mass by Sennfl’s somewhat older, unhappily short-lived contemporary Antoine de Févin (ca. 1470–1512). Most unusually, Févin was of aristocratic birth but nevertheless pursued a professional career as a musician—which is to say, a career in service. He was a member of Louis XII’s musical establishment at the time when Josquin is popularly supposed to have worked there, and it was on the basis of their presumed relationship that Glareanus called Févin “Josquin’s happy follower” (felix Jodoci aemulator).

Whether or not Févin and Josquin enjoyed a personal relationship, Glareanus accurately described their musical relationship. And yet Févin, while basing his technique and his stylistic preferences squarely on Josquin’s, was nevertheless an innovator. His Mass on Ave Maria … Virgo serena, published by Petrucci in 1515, bears a novel relationship to its musical model, in a manner dictated by the very nature of the model (which is to say dictated, albeit indirectly, by Josquin).

In the new style exemplified by Josquin’s motet the texture is so mobile and protean—now imitative, now homorhythmic, now proceeding by one sort of pairing, now by another—that no single voice-part has enough self-sufficiency to bear appropriation either as a tenor for cantus-firmus treatment, or as a melody for paraphrase. Instead, the polyphonic reworking of such a piece has to adopt the whole polyphonic texture as its model. The adaptation consists of a thorough reweaving of the texture, producing a new polyphonic fabric from the same fund of melodic motives.

Févin and his contemporaries called this new technique imitatio, and called a Mass in such a style a Missa ad imitationem (“Mass in imitation of”) or simply a Missa super (“Mass on”) followed by the name of the model. A fairly obscure late-sixteenth century German composer in the humanist tradition, Jakob Paix, published a mass in this style in 1587 under an affected pseudo-Greeky equivalent, Missa parodia, which means exactly the same thing as Missa ad imitationem. Since “imitation” already meant something else in modern musical parlance, modern scholars have adopted Paix’s term for the polyphonic reweaving technique. We now call such Masses “parody Masses,” and try to forget that the term now ordinarily suggests some sort of caricature or lampoon.


ex. 14-8 Antoine de Févin, Missa super Ave Maria, Kyrie, first section

The Kyrie from Févin’s Missa super Ave Maria (Ex. 14-8), one of the earliest true parody Masses, gives a good idea of the new genre and its possibilities. (“True” parody Masses are distinguished here not from false ones, but from earlier works—like Du Fay’s Missa Ave Regina Coelorum, quoted in chapter 13—which are basically tenor cantus-firmus Masses but which might occasionally draw informally on additional voices from a polyphonic prototype; such Masses were also composed by Ockeghem, Martini, Faugues, Obrecht, and Josquin himself.19) It is set in three parts, following the structure of the text. The “Christe section,” like the outer “Kyries,” uses the whole four-voice complement. (There is no need for a “tenor tacet” reduction where there is no tenor cantus firmus to withhold for effect.) The first section (Ex. 14-8) opens with a superius/altus duo on the opening motto-phrase of Josquin’s motet, with a melismatic extension that takes it one scale degree higher for its climax. The tenor enters with what sounds like a repetition of the same point, but in fact the tenor sings an elision of the first two phrases from the motet, imitated by the altus and then by the superius, while the bassus enters at the lower fifth, providing a harmonization that reemphasizes the F reached by the superius in the first phrase. The closing phrase reiterates the opening, but only in the superius. The other voices sing nonimitative counterpoints, the tenor making a brief recollection of “gratia plena” just before the final cadence.

The “Christe” appears to begin with a new point woven out of the “gratia plena” motive, but it is actually the altus counterpoint, derived from “cujus assumptio” near the end of Josquin’s motet, from which most of the fabric is actually woven. The final “Kyrie” is especially ingenious. The motivic material for its first point of imitation is provided by the tenor’s version of the third phrase (“Dominus tecum”) in Josquin’s motet. What had been an accompanying melisma—part of the background, as it were—in the original motet is moved on reweaving into the foreground. Févin’s final point is woven more straightforwardly out of Josquin’s “Virgo serena” phrase. In its general effect, the Mass Kyrie is a reworking of the opening quatrain from the motet, but with subtle variants and digressions at the reworker’s discretion.


(19) For a study of this in-between genre see J. Peter Burkholder, “Johannes Martini and the Imitation Mass of the Late Fifteenth Century,” JAMS XXXVIII (1985): 470–523.

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. 28 Sep. 2021. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-014007.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 28 Sep. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-014007.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 28 Sep. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-014007.xml