Josquin des Prez Biography

Josquin des Prez, a renowned Renaissance composer, is celebrated as one of the most brilliant and revered figures in Western music history. Despite limited knowledge about his early life and career, it is evident that he served various patrons and spent a significant portion of his musical journey in Italy. Holding prestigious positions, he crafted numerous motets and masses that are regarded as the masterpieces of a musical genius. Eventually, Josquin des Prez settled in Conde, France, where he composed both sacred and secular music in various vocal forms, including masses, chansons, frottole, and motets.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Josquin Lebloitte dit des Prez
  • Died At Age: 71
  • Family: father: Gossart des Prez
  • Born Country: Belgium
  • Composers
  • French Men
  • Died on: August 27, 1521
  • Place of Death: Condé-sur-l’Escaut

Childhood & Early Years

Although there is a controversy about the exact place or time of his birth, it is evident that Josquin des Prez was born in some place under the Duchy of Burgundy during the reign of Philip the Good. Different scholars have different opinions on that. While a large number of scholars believe that he was born in Condé-sur-l’Escaut of Hainaut in present-day Belgium, another group believes that he was born immediately across the border in Picardy in present-day France. Recent researches pinpoint Josquin’s year of birth sometime between 1450 and 1455. There is also a controversy about his name. Many scholars believe that des Prez was actually his nickname. From a will made by his uncle, Gille Lebloitte dit Desprez, in 1466 we come to know that his actual surname was Lebloitte. Nothing is known about Josquin’s parents or siblings. We only know that he had an uncle and an aunt, Gille Lebloitte dit Desprez and Jacque Banestonne, who left their estate to him.

Early Career

The first substantial evidence that has cropped up regarding Josquin’s employment is a role of musicians associated with the cathedral in Cambrai in the early 1470s. Since his name was included in that, it is fair to suggest that he might have begun his career as a singer at Cambrai. From Cambrai, he might have moved directly to Aix-en-Provence, where he was employed as a singer at the chapel of René, Duke of Anjou, in 1477. It is believed that he joined the service of René as early as 1475 and remained at Aix-en-Provence at least until March 1478. There are three possibilities regarding what happened next. One theory suggests that he might have remained with René till René’s death in 1480. Another possibility is that he went to Hungary to be employed as a court singer. The third possibility is that when in 1481 the whole chapel was shifted to Paris by René’s nephew, King Louis XI, Josquin too went along. We do not have concrete evidence to support any of these theories.

In Italy

In 1483, Josquin des Prez visited Condé-sur-l’Escaut to claim his inheritance and then moved to Milan, where he found employment with the influential Sforza family. He was in Milan at least until June 1484, as described in a document that mentions him as a chaplain in the service of Ascanio Sforza. During his stay in Milan, he became friendly with music theorist and composer Franchinus Gaffurius. He might have also traveled to Rome and Paris during this period. In 1489, he returned to Milan, but left in the same year to join the papal choir. He remained in the Papal service possibly until 1498 or 1499. His stay in Rome was highly productive, and he developed his mature style during this period. He then returned to France and wrote several pieces at the direction of the French Court. In 1503, he became maestro di cappella at the court of Duke Ercole I d’Este of Ferrara.

Last Days in Condé-sur-l’Escaut

In 1504, Josquin des Prez left Ferrara and went directly to Condé-sur-l’Escaut, where he had inherited an estate from his uncle. He remained in Condé for the rest of his life, heading the large musical establishment at the collegiate church. During this period, his fame began to spread, but his activities remained undocumented. He published several volumes of his masses, which became very popular. In 1509, he was invited to become choir master at Saint Quentin collegiate church, a position he held until his death in 1521.

Major Works

Josquin des Prez is known for his compositions such as ‘La Déploration de Johannes Ockeghem’ and ‘Miserere’. He is considered one of the greatest composers of his time and the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. He died on August 27, 1521, in Condé-sur-l’Escaut.

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