Our earliest archival records of Des Prez have him singing at Milan Cathedral in 1459. Working backwards from this, we can infer that he was born around 1440, possibly in Hainaut (now part of Belgium), near where Des Prez spent his final years. There is a great deal of conjecture about what Des Prez did prior to his position at Milan; among the theories is that he sang for Louis XI (or XII) of France. There is a similar lack of information as far as the chronology of his works is concerned; only in the last decades of his life did printing become an available option, and his pieces bear little relationship with the events of the time. Nonetheless, his years in Italy must have seen him achieve artistic maturity, as they account for a substantial portion of his life.
By 1474 he had entered the service of a wealthy Milanese patron, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. He was well paid, and a benefice ensured that not even Sforza's assassination two years later could affect his security. He served under Sforza's brother, Ascanio, whose position as a cardinal led Des Prez to Rome in 1484 where he served at the papal chapel. We know that he took leave to visit France, and by 1501 had left Rome to seek work with the French nobility. Possible patrons include Duke Ercole I, King Louis XII (somewhat more probable than earlier in his life) and Philip the Fair. The next appointment of which we can be certain was at the court of Ferrara. From the early 1500's he sang and composed many works, mainly motets and masses, and from 1503 he was maestro de cappella there. To escape an outbreak of plague he moved directly from Ferrara to Condé-sur-l'Escaut in northern France, where he began an appointment at Notre Dame as provost. He died there in 1521.
The publisher Petrucci brought out three volumes of Des Prez's work before his death, and these circulated widely to great acclaim. He was Luther's favourite composer, and he had a fondness for musical conundrums and acrostics. His masses show a wide variety of styles and influences, and he also worked in the secular French medium of chanson.
- MIDI FILE - "Vive le Roy!" (1'05'')Show more