All posts tagged “Josquin500

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Music for the thinking ear

Berlin, 16 July 2022, 9:30 pm: The Tallis Scholars under the direction of Peter Phillips complete their major project in the Pierre Boulez Saal. They performed all 18 masses by Josquin Desprez in eight concerts over four days.

Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars after the performance of all Josquin’s masses in the Pierre Boulez Saal

An enthusiastic audience celebrated the 14 musicians with standing ovations. Even though I unfortunately only had the opportunity to hear the last two of the eight concerts, it was obvious that the series was a complete success. In conversations with other visitors, it was clear that the music reached the hearts of many people.

What were the reasons for this extraordinary success?

The concert programme

In a short speech after the concert, Peter Phillips emphasised the courage required to stage such an event. This courage referred not only to the Tallis Scholars themselves, but especially to those responsible for the Pierre Boulez Saal. Renaissance music is not very present in the concert halls of the world. The performance of 18 works of church music of about half an hour by a widely unknown composer with identical Latin texts is a great venture.

The concert series offered the rare opportunity to familiarise oneself with the diversity of Josquin’s masses in just a few days and to gain an overall view of this genre. Only in direct comparison do the masses develop a special fascination.

However, this is not the first time that Ole Bækhøj, the artistic director of the Pierre Boulez Hall, and his team have shown that they have the courage and vision to offer such concerts.

The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars are without doubt one of the finest ensembles for the performance of Renaissance music. They celebrate their 50th anniversary next year. They have rendered special services to Josquin Desprez: Between 1987 and 2020, they recorded all of Josquin’s masses and released them on a total of nine CDs. They have the experience to realise such a venture, even if the compression into four days (each afternoon and evening) must have been a great challenge for the ensemble.

On Saturday afternoon, the two Marian Masses De beata virgine and Ave maris stella were on the programme, while in the evening the “last” two Masses were performed, the Missa Mater Patris and the Missa Pange lingua.

The ensemble doubles each voice; in the alto, women’s and men’s voices are sometimes mixed. The many duets within the masses are often performed soloistically.

To enable the singers to perform in a semicircle, block E was removed from the wooden oval of the Pierre Boulez Hall.

The Tallis Scholars perform the demanding works with a perfect balance of voices, a full sound and a high degree of intonation. The style of performance and the acoustics of the hall allow the listeners to combine emotional and analytical listening.

My personal highlight was the Missa Mater Patris. It is based on the motet of the same name by Antoine Brumel. In contrast to other masses, this work is reduced to the essential, downright simple. Characteristic are the contrasting alternations between fragile solo passages (especially in the middle voices) and homophonic blocks full of sonorous sound. The highlight is the Agnus III: Josquin incorporates almost the entirety of Brumel’s motet into the middle voices and perfects it by adding frame voices. The composition seems unpretentiously light and simple, despite all its actual complexity. Even though dating Josquin’s works is incredibly difficult, the listening experience leads me to classify the Missa Mater Patris – quite subjectively – as a late work.

The media support

In conversations after the concert, it became clear that listeners with different listening expectations and previous knowledge had found their way to the Pierre Boulez Saal. For some it was their first contact with Josquin’s music, others were already experts in the field. Judging by the reactions, all were enthusiastic.

Responsible for this success was the preparation and marketing of the concert. The basis was a lovingly designed website rich in content. This offered everyone the opportunity to prepare extensively for the concerts. The idea alone of commissioning Shirley Athorp and Willem Bruls to produce an eight-part podcast deserves admiration.

All those interested were also able to take a look behind the scenes in a 47-minute video. A part of the rehearsals was documented. In addition, Peter Phillips introduces the singers in short interviews. A very nice idea, because this way one could get acquainted with the main actors of the concert.

Even without the 134-page programme booklet, which was excellent in terms of graphics and content, it was possible to familiarise oneself with the characteristics of the individual masses months before the concerts began. Everyone was thus able to put together their own programme.

The performance venue

The performance space designed by Frank O. Gehry is a stroke of luck for this music. The outstanding acoustic properties are the result of collaboration with Yasuhisa Toyota, one of the most renowned acousticians for concert halls. Among many other important concert halls, he is also responsible for the acoustics in Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie.

The centre of the hall is an elliptical stage. The audience seats are arranged around it. Since the oval tier is attached to the walls of the hall in only a few places and barely visible, a feeling of weightlessness results. This is reinforced by the music.

The vision for the conception of the hall was to focus on “music for the thinking ear”. For the concerts on Saturday, one can only say: “Vision completed”.

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Josquin and Berlin

What do Josquin and Berlin have to do with each other? Berlin was not a metropolis in the late 15th century, but a “double-city” called Berlin-Kölln. The number of inhabitants did only in the course of the 16th century rise to over 10,000.

In 2022, Berlin, with a population of around 3.7 million, will be the venue for what is probably the most ambitious Josquin concert project ever: from July 13 to 16, 2022, all 18 Josquin masses considered authentic will be performed in eight concerts over four days in the Pierre Boulez Saal. The Tallis Scholars under the direction of Peter Phillips are thus making up for what they had actually planned for the 500th anniversary of Josquin’s death in 2021.

Under the title “Welcome to the Josquin Universe!” a special website has been created for the project. It is definitely worth a visit. The graphically appealing site is divided into four sections:

  1. The Masses
  2. Podcast: Master of the Notes
  3. Art guide
  4. Essays


The “Masses” section offers approximately one-minute excerpts from all eighteen masses. These are accompanied by brief explanations of the special features of each work and links to artworks that relate to the particular fair.


More ambitious is a podcast produced specifically for the website called “Master of the Notes.” The authors of the English-language podcast are Shirley Apthorp and Willem Bruls. In eight episodes, the two are tracking Josquin in Europe. Currently (May 2022), four episodes have already been released: 1. Introduction, 2. Why Josquin?, 3. In the Spider’s Web, and 4. City of Dead Ends.

Art guide

An art guide offers the opportunity to discover parallels between music and visual art with Peter Phillips. Spanning the 12th to 16th centuries, the tour begins with an illustration of Jan van Eyck’s famous Ghent Altarpiece, underlayed by a musical excerpt from the stunning Agnus Dei III from Josquin’s Missa L’homme armé sexti toni.


Finally, the “Essays” section offers some interesting contributions on the following issues:

  1. Peter Phillips: Renaissance perspectives. How music and the visual arts came alive. Essay on parallels and contradictions between music and visual art in the form of a hypothetical conversation between Josquin Desprez and the architect Filippo Brunelleschi.
  2. Harry Haskell: Josquin immortal. 500 years of a composer in the making. Text on the composer’s fascinating reception history.
  3. Ivan Moody: Sounding Out Josquin (English only). Interview between Ivan Moody and Peter Phillips on the genesis of the recording of all Josquin’s masses.
  4. Anthony Parr: Mapping Renaissance Europe. Revival and Revolution in the Quattrocento. The author places Josquin’s life and work in the intellectual-historical context of the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
  5. Peter Phillips: Heaven and earth. A performer’s guide to Josquin’s masses (English only). Reprint of an extensive article on the Masses that appeared in Musical Times in 2018.

With the website “Welcome to the Josquin Universe!”, Peter Phillips and the Pierre Boulez Saal have created a fascinating way to prepare for the July 2022 concert event.

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Josquin500 – Video Killed the Radio Star?

Composer anniversaries, such as the 500th anniversary of Josquin Desprez’s death, bring new attention to the jubilarian. This was already the case in 1971, when a true “Josquin renaissance” began with the International Josquin Conference in New York from 21 to 25 June. The opulent conference report edited by Edward Lowinsky may also have contributed to this.

The 500th anniversary of Josquin’s death coincided with the pandemic. Perhaps the most ambitious project was the performance of all Josquin’s masses from 25 to 28 August 2021 in the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin by the Tallis Scholars under the direction of Peter Phillips. On 27 August 2021, the 500th anniversary of Josquin’s death, the Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae, among others, was to be heard. Unfortunately, the concert series has fallen victim to the Corona travel restrictions. According to current plans, the concerts are now to be made up from 13 to 16 July 2022.


However, the festival “Laus Polyphoniae” took place from 20 to 29 August 2021. The organisers have opted for a mixture of live concerts and video recordings, which are freely accessible online. Particularly noteworthy are seven documentary concerts with the participation of Josquin experts, which focus on Josquin’s masses:

  1. Misse Josquin I – Missa Ave maris stella – Capella Pratensis – Eric Jas & Stratton Bull
  2. Misse Josquin II – Missa Malheur me bat – Huelgas Ensemble – David Burn & Paul Van Nevel
  3. Misse Josquin III – Missa Hercules dux Ferrarie – Vox Luminis -Patrick Macey & Lionel Meunier
  4. Misse Josquin IV – Missa Pange lingua – Cappella Pratensis – Alanna Ropchock Tierno & Stratton Bull
  5. Misse Josquin V – Missa Faisant regretz – Huelgas Ensemble – Fabrice Fitch & Paul Van Nevel
  6. Misse Josquin VI – Missa Gaudeamus – Cappella Mariana – David Fallows & Vojtěch Semerád
  7. Misse Josquin VII – Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales – Huelgas Ensemble – Jesse Rodin & Paul Van Nevel

In addition, the other concerts of the festival are also available on YouTube:

  1. Huelgas Ensemble | Josquin des Prez: a man for all seasons
  2. Cappella Pratensis | Josquin in Ferrara
  3. Pluto-ensemble | Cela sans plus. Sur les ailes de Jossequin
  4. Vox Luminis | Missa L’homme armé sexti toni
  5. Cappella Pratensis | Josquin and the art of eloquence
  6. Huelgas Ensemble | In memoriam Josquin des Prez
  7. Utopia | Lux aeterna
  8. Ratas del viejo Mundo | Voice of a mute


Also worth mentioning are some radio programmes that devote an unusual amount of time to various aspects of Josquin’s life and work.

BBC Radio 3 has previously given Josquin Desprez space in the “Composer of the Week” series. The individual episodes are no longer accessible, but a summary (with much abridged music) is still available as on the BBC website. In 90 minutes, Donald Macleod and Jeremy Summerly give an excellent insight into Josquin’s life and work.

Donald MacLeod has used the anniversary year as an opportunity to take another look at Josquin. This time the focus is on the relationship between Josquin and Netherlandish Art in five one-hour episodes. Together with art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, he visits the National Gallery in London and paints a picture of art and music in the age of Josquin:

  1. Josquin and Netherlandish Art (1/5)Link to the artworks in the National Gallery London
  2. Music and Art in Josquin’s Age: Branching Out (2/5)Link to the artworks in the National Gallery London
  3. Josquin and Art in Northern Italy (3/5)Link to the artworks in the National Gallery London
  4. Josquin and Art in Rome (4/5)Link to the artworks in the National Gallery London
  5. Josquin and Art in Ferrara (5/5)Link to the artworks in the National Gallery London

For legal reasons, the full episodes will only be available for a limited time (a maximum of thirty days after broadcast), but again a podcast will be made available which will include heavily abridged music interludes.

In the German-speaking world, the SWR2 theme evening on the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin Desprez deserves special mention: in the first part, Doris Blaich interviews the Josquin biographer David Fallows, the lutenist Marc Lewon, professor of historical lute instruments at the Schola Cantorum Basilienses and director of the Ensemble Leones, and the conductor Paul van Nevel, director of the Huelgas Ensemble. The second part is devoted to the masses. The interview guest is the musicologist Christiane Wiesenfeldt.

Also well worth listening to is the programme “Der Komponist Josquin Desprez: Europas erster Musikstar” by Jenny Berg, which was broadcasted on SRF on 2 August 2021. In the first segment, David Fallows explains why Josquin fascinates him, then the musician Jean-Christophe Groffe and leader of the Ensemble Thélème talks about his CD project “Baisiez moy” and in the third segment, the musician Tabea Schwarz reports on the example of the ReRenaissance concert series in Basel, which framework conditions are necessary for the performance of Renaissance music.

A good introduction to the performance practice of Renaissance music and different approaches to interpretation is given by Michael Stegemann in his contribution entitled “500. Todestag von Josquin Desprez – Erster Superstar der Musik”. The contribution was broadcasted on Deutschlandfunk Kultur in the series “Interpretations” on 22 August 2021. Stegemann focuses on Josquin’s masses and structures his almost two-hour overview through the five sections of the mass ordinary: Agnus Dei, Sanctus, Credo, Gloria, Kyrie. He presents historical and more recent recordings and compares the different approaches to interpreting the various parts of the Mass.

Finally, the programme “Notendrucker Ottaviano Petrucci – Der Gutenberg der Musik” (Ottaviano Petrucci – The Gutenberg of Music) by Eva Blaskewitz should be mentioned, which was broadcasted on 28 April 2021 on Deutschlandfunk Kultur as part of the series “Early Music”. In her 30-minute contribution, Blaskewitz focuses on the music printer Ottaviano Petrucci, the inventor of printing music with movable metal types.