The Musical Games of Josquin des Prez

Classical Academy | Composers | Josquin des Prez | Renaissance


Josquin des Prez is a shadowy man - although he was one of the most famous composers of the Renaissance and a master of polyphonic vocal music, we still know very little about his life. Scholars can't even agree on his name - sometimes he is called Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez or the latinate Josquinus Pratensis. What we do know is that he was a bit of a graffiti artist - the only signed instance of his name is some graffiti carved into the wall of the Sistine Chapel!


Hailing from the Flemish region of Europe - today modern Belgium - almost 400 of his sacred and secular works survive today, including masses, motets and chansons. He was clearly a very intelligent man and as well as creating the most beautiful sounds from interwoven single voices, he also loved to compose little jokes and games into his compositions. His motet "Illibata Dei Virgo Nutrix", where the first word of each line spells out Josquin's own name : IOSQVIN D[es] PREZ.


Illibata Dei virgo nutrix
Olimpi tu regis o genitrix
Sola parens verbi puerpera
Que fuisti Eve reparatrix
Viri nephas tuta mediatrix
Illud clara luce dat scriptura
Nata nati alma genitura
Des ut leta musorum factura
Prevaleat ymis et sit ave
Roborando sonos ut gluttura
Effligitent laude teque pura
Zelotica arte clament Ave


You can hear more of Josquin's sacred choral works including his "Missa de beate virgine" (Mass of the blessed virgin) in this album performed by the vocal ensemble A Sei Voci, who specialise in Renaissance and Baroque music. Listen out for the wonderful suspensions - typical of Renaissance music - where two voices are suspended for a brief moment on clashing tones, before relaxing into harmony.