The "Josquin Year" in 2021 has recently passed, and that provides an impetus to do a sort of "state of the field" survey here. The New Josquin Edition (NJE) was actually completed in 2016, but that event didn't seem to bring much fanfare. Indeed, the desired clarity regarding Josquin's life & work doesn't appear to have emerged. Various complications & questions continue to present themselves in terms of e.g. refining a chronology or even determining authenticity. As the most famous composer of his era, then, attention to Josquin hasn't necessarily been rewarded with increasingly refined knowledge.
But such an assessment also overstates: Of course additional work on Josquin's life & work has brought new insights, even if questions remain. And my impetus here is not to revisit or critique scholarly efforts in that arena, but rather to evaluate the music being rendered into sound & provided to the public as recordings. In some sense, then, notions of "authentic works" etc. can fade into the background, in that performing & recording everything associated with Josquin can only increase knowledge & understanding — & lead to further evaluation of the music, in general, within the auditory domain. And I've really focused on sound here: There was a period, earlier in this broad project, when I spent more time with manuscripts & scores, but these days — especially around a growing orientation toward improvised music (especially elsewhere...) — I've often found it more worthwhile simply to listen. That continues to be my feeling here, that work directly on the scores needs to be supplemented by more listening & pondering of "musical results" to this point, i.e. a focus on practice. For such an affective focus, scores can even be a distraction.... (And, for the curious, the most recent general book on Josquin continues to be David Fallows' Josquin from 2011, although it was apparently reprinted, more affordably in paperback, for the Anniversary....)
So in terms of practice, the Anniversary brought new recordings, but not really new texts (although this is a counterexample, I suppose...). And I was particularly interested in hearing rethinkings of the material, some of which did appear, particularly in the more secular domain.... What didn't occur, though, was a truly "central" release for Josquin studies-in-sound, i.e. a Complete Motets edition or the like. We do have three series of complete mass cycles concluding around now, but of course most of those performances were already recorded.... Other than that, it's hard to say that the Anniversary brought anything approaching a definitive collection. (And note that complete recorded editions for other composers of this era are hardly unprecedented!) However, the Anniversary did yield around 15 original albums, and instead of lamenting what hasn't happened, here I want to focus on the positive contributions those albums make to the Josquin discography.
In that, I already reviewed the albums as they appeared — although I was probably too wrapped up in my usual concerns at various points, rather than trying to focus on the positives in this sense... — & so don't intend to re-review them here, although I do intend to summarize & perhaps to reframe. In this, I'm also taking a generous approach to the Anniversary, and will mention some other albums from the past few years as well. (I'm not revisiting the full, historical discography though!) I'll obviously be discussing albums that've already appeared, but it also seems possible that a "second wave" could consist of recordings made during the Anniversary year... so this might not be the end of the story. I'm also not intending to focus on attribution here, since as noted, a generous approach to recording material associated with Josquin seems worthwhile in this moment (although it's certainly not impossible that a focus on inauthentic works could distort one's view...). And it seems that many of the Anniversary releases weren't especially concerned with attribution either. There were also reissue collections, meaning various older recordings (often around older ideas...) repackaged into sets naming Josquin (although sometimes including material by various others): I've continued to try to note these for the FAQ, but don't intend to discuss reissues here. I'm mostly interested in new performances & new approaches.
So there are recordings to praise here.... I just want to be clear about that, even as I do feel an air of disappointment around the Anniversary. (I want to be honest about that too.) It seems as though a composer of Josquin's stature should simply have a more comprehensive discography. But then, what is it about Josquin that works against this outcome? I guess that becomes an increasingly tangible question. And confusion about his life & the boundaries of his output are one answer, but the NJE is complete (& in modern notation), meaning that interested musicians could simply start playing the thing, beginning to end.... Some of this happens. But, for instance, why aren't the groups that I've generally praised in performances of Josquin's contemporaries recording Josquin? Recordings of the latter often seem to involve a different set of interpreters: Some of this has to do with reputation, in that ensembles focusing on more than Franco-Flemish polyphony might single out Josquin as the one composer of the era to feature. And that's yielded far more Josquin albums by groups that mostly perform later music.... Yet, do these "more famous" musicians really prevent others from recording? It seems as though tackling Josquin brings an extra layer of pressure (even intimidation...) beyond this. So is that only a matter of (his) reputation? Or of the recording history (which is mostly forgettable, if you ask me...)?
Josquin's specific era was also the cusp of modernity — at least as I've come to view that transition [per Digression #2] — & so various revisions & mythologizing come to apply as well. (This is also why so many apocryphal pieces were attributed to Josquin.) Moreover, Josquin's colleagues have generally proven easier to localize & narrate, meaning that their works are more contextualized, suggesting or confirming more specific stylistic nuances. But now it appears that Josquin revised many of his major works, sometimes over many years, meaning that their contexts are actually less specific, more "of the era" in general, and of course dispersed geographically as well. In that sense, it starts to seem as though Josquin created a Josquin style, without further specificity.... (And while the results are certainly impressive in their own ways, a composer who is constantly revising also presents another picture....) Indeed, it starts to appear that Josquin was often writing for posterity. Or rather, perhaps he started writing for posterity after he inherited substantial family wealth. (Although his bio remains sketchy, some work does seem more functional, especially "early," whatever that comes to mean.) And such a notion also seems to compete with others suggesting a general lack of agency for premodern people: Josquin is sometimes narrated almost as a "victim," it now seems to me, i.e. as someone at the mercy of scribes & (later) publishers, but what if he published exactly what he'd been wanting to publish? The sense that Josquin "curated" his work, or at least some of it, tends to resonate most strongly with the mass cycles, which often seem to tackle multi-decade trends in hybrid ways....
There've also been various efforts at stylistic narration for Josquin, mostly (I'd say...) deriving from a retrospective view founded in the subsequent Counter-Reformation, i.e. an emphasis on Josquin's more austere & plainchant-based settings. But although his development of style in e.g. Missa Pange lingua or Missa de beata virgine is certainly worth noting, what the mass cycles (& motets) really seem to proclaim is variety! So Josquin tackled a variety of musical concerns, and the notion that there was a particular progression is often wrong. (There's a sophistication to the presumably later part-writing, but not a technical or thematic trend....) Josquin's presumed sense of "inwardness" can't be entirely dismissed, though, as he obviously took an interest in liturgical propriety. Was he even some kind of religious fundamentalist? He does come off as moralizing, on more than one occasion.... (And did the fact that he "had money" figure into this? One can hardly ignore the nexus between money & superior attitudes maintaining today....) There's a sense that he was musically conservative too, at least later in life, but some disputed works contest this assessment: It seems to me that Josquin's late musical conservatism was probably overstated, but that he did concern himself with religious trends (which, as trends, aren't inherently conservative...). His motets, in particular, set a variety of texts, and so take up some of the religious & other arguments of their day. (In this, Josquin was also particularly devoted to the Marian tradition, which was already a trend of his era [although see Digression #3]). Josquin was thus often an innovator in his motets, both contrapuntally & in terms of texts, while his mass cycles were more likely to stand at the end of traditions.
I've also developed a sense that Josquin was old-fashioned when it came to tuning: Many of his works (still) involve cadential open fifths, and so a strong suggestion of Pythagorean tuning. This issue remains relatively little explored, though, at least not in writing... [so see Digression #1]. Performances can be rather unspecific regarding tuning choices, but there's still the matter of musica ficta for this music, and that remains under discussion (as e.g. Peter Urquhart is releasing a lengthy new book on the subject) — including practically speaking in the music of the Anniversary recordings. There can be a basic tension in this work between horizontal & vertical factors in tuning: Whereas modern editors were generally quick to favor the vertical, e.g. Urquhart is continuing to emphasize the horizontal, and the latter — questions of line — are more my working priority as well. These & other factors then (often) pose various compromises when it comes to appreciating or recommending particular recordings. However, quality interpretations of individual works do tend to build on each other, finding new details & layers of meaning, taking from earlier efforts & the details they've already uncovered.... Josquin's music is rich in details, and when the singers come to have a real recognition of the relation of their lines to whatever else is happening, has happened & will soon happen, the sophistication of the interpretation comes to another level. Given the confused narratives of Josquin, though, such a level of understanding has proven difficult, and many performances of the major works end up with aimless passages. Still, there's a sort of iterative quality to interpretations of this work, throughout the broader repertory, and so not only for Josquin — even as his tendency to edit does appear to bring in more (un-spontaneous?) layers of detail to render. So the situation does improve, perhaps slowly. (And while Fallows' book already claimed that there were quality readings of most works, this is surely a matter of degree....) So it's one thing to be following the (modern) score faithfully, but another to bring a level of understanding tangibly to the ear....
And what's my motivation here [& see Digression #3]? The Josquin generation actually concludes the era of my main interest, i.e. the medieval era [i.e. per Digression #2], building on a wide range of 15th century counterpoint (which itself drew on various elements of the later 14th century...). It's a kind of final flowering, or at least an inflection point, as eras never actually end cleanly & various influences do continue to operate.... But it did also consummate a shift in mentality, i.e. around the Reformation & opening exploitation in the Americas — & indeed music printing. And I've also increasingly come to think of Josquin as conscious of a change of epoch, of trying to respond to that new situation. And so what am I really attempting to do in this essay? There's a survey of the recent releases, and of course an assessment of my preferences around those interpretations, but I also want to dive into the specific material more than I have to this point: I came to Josquin & Franco-Flemish polyphony with Josquin's reputation already established, and so a belief that other scholars would surely answer these questions about Josquin, and thus establish understanding of his music at a higher level. I thus concentrated on other composers, thinking Josquin himself would be well covered, and that I'd only need a little patience (& also, frankly, because some other composers' music made stronger personal impressions on me — in that Josquin's masterworks can lack immediacy, as I'd observe today). Now, instead of grousing, I guess I should put more personal investment into this broad project, and try to articulate some more detailed thoughts, particularly about the motets, which I intend to do below.... (That probably also means adding some questionable personal observations throughout this piece, observations that I might've otherwise kept to myself....) After all, even lacking landmark releases, incremental value is value, and I don't want my hopes for the Anniversary to numb me to the merits of its actual releases.
So I intend to freeze some thoughts in time right here, rather than in discussions (e.g. per the recommended recording lists, linked at the bottom of this page...) that I continue to update.
Regular readers might recall that I spent a few years calling for new recordings devoted to Josquin's secular music: That call was already rewarded (coincidentally or not...) to some degree, such that I'd already changed my Anniversary "wish list" to the motets, but secular albums end up being some of the strongest of the Anniversary anyway.... (Now I'd say that, instead of being under-recorded himself, it's Josquin's contemporaries whose secular works, relatively speaking, are under-recorded: So let me call for more from those other composers to appear!)
Albums under this heading also involve a variety of repertory, not entirely chansons: Josquin's motet-chansons are some of his best-served works, for instance, and these programs like to include memorials to Josquin as well (I guess, since Susato already did it). But the chansons themselves, including both vocally & instrumentally, do start to come off more assertively & colorfully, indeed to move more into the realm of "individual interpretations" of the works (rather than simply trying to render the notes & rhythms...). The resulting variety also suggests an interrogation of secularity per se: After all [pace Digressions #2/3], this was a society suffused with the Christian religion, such that sacred & secular themes intertwined. (For clarity, then, one can speak of liturgical music per se, rather than sacred themes in general....) There's thus little clear thematic boundary, and of course musical material traveled between these domains anyway, such that the secular programs can come to suggest a broad concept of variation. (There're also various overlaps & reworkings involving colleagues, a sort of "world" of material that was endlessly reframed & varied....) And these notions of variation & reworking appear to continue past Josquin's own death, into later collections involving both his sacred & secular works, often together, meaning a sort of general secularizing, including via transcription.... The secular music thus comes to suggest a sort of broad transformation, ongoing transformation & instantiation of a general flow, a flow continuing into contemporary creativity.... (Well, not continuing, but revived, perhaps, as we know?) And many of the songs do involve creative texts as well — with the (presumably late) five-voice chansons thus suggesting a similar technical sophistication as the motets, at times, while also being more bound by (prior) courtly conventions — albeit across a wide stylistic range. But the smaller pieces also continue to resonate, especially through dedicated programs exploring their technical transformations....
So in some sense, I'm finding less to say here: These renditions take on both a more satisfying sophistication & point toward later historical ideas.... And so, moving on to summarize the three Anniversary chanson albums:
The most straightforward song release was Septiesme livre de chansons by Ensemble Clément Janequin, a group that'd released a very similar program in 1988. As noted, I don't want to reprise reviews here, but the approach was basically similar after the intervening decades, generally more colorful & polished in its own terms, but oriented around mid-sixteenth century style. It's an enjoyable album, then, but not a new approach. And in the context of these releases, it tends to seem immediately noisy: There's often a keyboard involved, various part doubling occurs throughout, with strong articulation in some lines, remaining foggier in others, colorful, chordal....
Josquin the Undead by Graindelavoix then goes for a more provocative stance, addressing the same repertory, but less in a sixteenth century mode. They also emphasize some of the memorial material, and offer what can be a gloomy mood. (They play, already, upon the anachronism of Susato publishing these songs a generation after Josquin's death....) And I've felt as though this album most corresponds to the "rethinking" idea here. In fact, I've greatly enjoyed it, and added it promptly to my recommendations. (And I'm going to keep direct links to those discussions to a minimum here, since this is supposed to be a "set" piece, while those are for ongoing update, but I did add this album to my "personal list" — as reachable via links at the bottom of this page.)
Baisiez Moy by Thélème (a group with which I had no prior familiarity...) continues a creative approach to this material, now including unusual (& electronic) instruments of the 20th century in their mix. There's thus a conscious provocation. But there're also some very fine "straight" tracks, including some of the most enjoyable of the Anniversary. (As on Graindelavoix's album, the singers here are also all men: They produce a generally brighter sound, but offer some similarities in approach....) That includes some motets. I also enjoy some of the "weird" additions here... they seem to fit into the general theme of ongoing transformation that I sketched above. (I'm not sure about the Buchla track, though. Maybe it's to cleanse the ear of inauthentic works before proceeding?) And I don't feel as though I can really put an album such as this onto my EM lists (or don't have a real spot for it...), but I've actually found it to be one of the most enjoyable Anniversary releases. There's a real feel for the music & for ongoing music-making.
And then I want to turn to a couple of transcription programs: These turn even more explicitly to a sixteenth century (i.e. post-Josquin) style, but also illustrate the modes by which his music continued to be known. (The notion of a series of "points of imitation" that comes to maintain here also depends on tuning: With tempered fifths, there's simply less of a feeling of finality, with the music taking on a kind of linear flow, i.e. seeming to go on & on, almost in undifferentiated fashion....) This music is thus, actually, outside my main interests, but I do want to include it here: It provides more perspectives. (And the notion of secularity here, despite the liturgical music often being rendered, arises from the sort of thematic transition & interrogation that I sketched above....)
Inviolata is an album from 2020 of lute transcriptions by Jacob Heringman (& actually reprises a similar Josquin album that he released in 2000...), some from the sixteenth century & some new. It's an intricate performance of considerable mastery, but not my preferred way to experience the music. (Lute transcriptions can seem to have their own, specialist audience....) Nonetheless, I wanted to note it for this survey.
The Josquin Songbook then involves Spanish transcriptions for one or two voices & vihuela accompaniment. Although again it's not my preferred way to interact with this music — & the extracted vocal lines can seem quite stark, but also affective... — it's actually a rather enjoyable album. María Cristina Kiehr was once a star of Early Music performance, but I hadn't noticed much from her lately, while tenor Jonatan Alvarado is new — but suddenly appearing on multiple albums here. Both are excellent, and there's a peculiar tension & intensity projected by this recital — so another look at these pieces, i.e. a completely different (& posthumous) way to perform Josquin's music.... (This album also suggests a view of the Spanish sixteenth century per se, particularly its variation technique....)
(And although these two programs do include motets, since they're not performed with the original forces, I'm not going to include them for the motet survey below.)
The notion of the mass cycle as the symphony of its era has already been discussed by various writers, and so there's little to add about that here. In Josquin's case, it also apparently involved a desire to revise & to polish, i.e. to tackle the tradition (of which he obviously felt himself very much a part) in ongoing ways. Josquin seems to have idolized Dufay & Ockeghem, for instance.... And Josquin apparently sought to write masterworks in a variety of styles, although some mass cycles do seem to return to concerns of specific, prior works. But mostly, Josquin's masses are individual works that don't present an overarching theme: Perhaps this actually led to underrating them for a while, in fact, as many of these pieces don't fit into broad stylistic narratives. And as noted, there've certainly been attempts to trace (or even to construct...) broader stylistic themes running through this work, but the only real consistency seems to be in a desire to perfect whatever technique is being used.... Indeed, Josquin appears to have been very much a composer of his time, using a similar variety of technique & material, but also consciously striving to forge his own distinct style (& reputation). Moreover, Josquin seems to have particularly confronted prior tradition in his masses, as e.g. each begins in four voices, even as opinions as to chronology can vary (& although some include more voices for the Agnus Dei — as Josquin seemed to loved a big climax — only the Missa de beata virgine uses five voices prior to its end...). And actually, I have to wonder about the additional voices in the Agnus: What are the practical implications? Was it an impractical indulgence that Josquin was in position to embrace? Were there more actual voices, or might it have involved a split of parts previously doubled? I mean, most groups go for a "bigger" sound today, but maybe it's only supposed to be more intricate? (Another digression, not elaborated below....) Summary is thus difficult: We're basically talking about a set of individual masterpieces. But luckily, we have increasing options to listen!
Among the masses accepted by the NJE, all but the Missa Pange lingua (which is traditionally considered, consequently, to be later...) were published by Petrucci. They're clearly thus also Josquin's most "curated" work — even as subsequent scholarship was soon to prioritize the motets. And one of the factors is that the masses present more often as retrospective works, versus the more "prospective" motets, i.e. the latter in more voices, with different or varied texts.... (Of course, mass cycles generally use the same text: That's what defines the mass, and such consistency has also prompted a variety of musical approaches, including around various textual ambivalences....) With the masses appearing in comprehensive recording projects, though, that situation seems to have inverted in the 21st century: The motets are lagging, while the masses are being increasingly appreciated — perhaps including for their often more traditional character & ongoing exploration of prior traditions. (And the mass cycles might also have proven easier to embrace in large projects because of their relatively unsituated character: It remains possible to perform them all in the same manner....) At this point, the masses simply seem to be better served on record, forging a full picture of them thus seeming more practical than ever.... (And I should note that Josquin also wrote a small number of individual mass movements & other "ritual works," but these haven't seemed important, and so I won't be giving them their own discussion here....)
Finally, in terms of picking favorite recordings over the years, I've attempted to balance a number of factors, but one of the biggest was program: Different pairings can obviously yield a very different impression for an album as a whole. So one thing I've done for this project is to disarticulate album programs, and so to consider each mass performance individually. (One could certainly suggest that such a move has been a long time in coming, but what's really confirmed it for me is the changes in the music business & how people can access recordings online. In the old days, recommending an entire album was the only practical course.) And in the case of the mass cycles, since these are roughly half hour works, considering them separately is not especially unwieldy, although some do continue to be presented as surrounded by pieces in other genres — including plainchant. The latter has been motivated by a desire to present masses in their liturgical context, and can be worthwhile at times, but over the years, I've more often preferred to hear the mass cycles of the period as five movement works without interpolations. When the interpolations are other items of independent interest (i.e. motets), though, it does complicate matters — so I'll still be recommending some mixed programs. (What I'm ultimately evaluating is the affective response, and for me today, plainchant interpolations often end up feeling like waiting.)
The three mass cycles that have either recently concluded or will (hopefully) conclude soon don't tend to present much other than the masses themselves, though. As suggested, that's welcome to me, particularly for reference recordings. A brief recap:
The Tallis Scholars set, concluding already in 2020, has to be considered the most prominent: Its final issue features the virtuosic Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae in a program of three masses, and the series also includes a few non-mass pieces over its course, but generally involves album releases of two masses each — one major, one less so. Regarding this series, then, although I've wanted to keep this essay independent, I'm going to go ahead & reference my discussion elsewhere, surveying each of the masses involved. (And as noted, those "cdc" comments could change, but I thought the survey needed to be in that space....) In some sense, the Tallis Scholars style is also the most generic, i.e. can actually seem to fit or accommodate the limited context for Josquin's specific (i.e. decontextualized already) works. But then, they also don't give recording dates, and so I wonder if these are older recordings (i.e. from e.g. ten years ago) being held back for release... meaning that the whole production seems decontextualized! (And if the Tallis Scholars are finished with the masses, how about recording the complete motets now? Why not?)
The next cycle to note is that by Tetsuro Hanai & Vocal ensemble Cappella from Japan: It's also been underway for more than a dozen years, with a new issue in 2021 (but recorded back in 2013...). And they were unable to record their final album due to the pandemic, so this series remains unfinished. (The series also came to online streaming services during 2021: It'd only been available via mail order to Japan previously.) Theirs is a generally understated, and more "modal," style, indeed around the vocal ideas of Rebecca Stewart (who already recorded a handful of Josquin masses herself, in an earlier era...). Although not possessing the mainstream clout of the Tallis Scholars, Hanai et al. thus adopt a contrasting & also worthwhile approach. And there's an overall coherence to their series that must be noted too, even though I can't read its Japanese discussions.
Then there's the cycle by Maurice Bourbon & Métamorphoses (plus his "student" group, Biscantor), taking more than 15 years to complete (& that's not including the older readings that, unlike Phillips, Bourbon redid...), and involving two concluding releases in 2021, Volume 9 & Volume 10, both actually recent recordings. (And coincidentally, then, two new readings of the Missa sine nomine, the cycle with which the Tallis Scholars restarted their series in 2008, appeared in 2021....) Bourbon's readings tend to be more idiosyncratic, motivated in part by contemporary choral writing, often boisterous, but do take on a stylistic polish (& personal vision) over time as well.... It's, of course, impossible to know what I'd think of these recordings hypothetically absent those by the Tallis Scholars.... They definitely have their moments, and surely add to our sonic knowledge of these great works. (And this is the only one of the three series named here really to be "complete," at least per the NJE list, the Tallis Scholars having refrained from redoing their two outmoded albums from the 1980s....)
Obviously the existence of these (mostly, nearly) complete series provides an excellent opportunity to transition to a more sound-focused response to the mass cycles: I've discussed more of my preferences elsewhere, but do want to present these as Anniversary releases here as well. So this is an accomplishment around 2021, although as noted, they'd all been underway for at least a dozen years.... The opportunity for ongoing listening has thus already paid off to some extent in greater appreciation of Josquin's output as a whole, but there's also still the matter of applying this experience to material by other composers....
And of course, things continue within the Josquin discography itself, as other mixed Anniversary albums including masses did appear as well (as listed chronologically, by release):
The Golden Renaissance was a release for which I wrote a relatively harsh review. And I want to discuss that a little more here, particularly to contextualize my thoughts. After all, in some sense, the performances seem good — even as the "modern orientation" rubs me the wrong way. But how does the latter happen? I actually thought I might have to eat my words here, because when I moved to surveying each piece individually (i.e. against other performances of the same piece) for this particular write-up, the possibility presented itself that Stile Antico's Missa Pange lingua was actually the best sung (& I'll be treating the individual motets below...) — particularly since no performance of this iconic cycle has really called to me strongly. However, what did I find? It's apparently the construction of the program per se that I don't like: When extracting the mass movements alone, it seemed as though there was something missing, i.e. that they were sculpted (in context) such that the surrounding motets actually fulfilled important roles of affective articulation & climax. The mass thus somehow comes off as (affectively) partial, and obviously that makes a "repertory" approach to listening unsatisfying. Moreover, what of the items being inserted, particularly where they're inserted? Splitting the Kyrie & Gloria is not common at all, and makes for a weird feel — splitting the Benedictus & Agnus too, although less so. And what of these items then? My impression is that they're trying to make some sort of feminist statement (from a strange, modern perspective [see Digressions #2/3]). In fact, they seem to be trying to undermine the mass — to the point that I have the impression they'd've liked to place the raunchy El Grillo as the Elevation, but ran out of nerve. (The similarly included chanson is an especially strange choice, generally considered much later & inauthentic... even described by the New Grove as "technically incompetent!" Why is it here?) There's thus a strong rhetorical sweep, ending with (more) memorials... raising a kind of atheist modernism — & asserting distance — via this iconic mass, it seems. But religion aside, the "sweep of the full program" approach here doesn't yield a satisfying cycle. It seems to be its own attempt at a coy, affective reframing, though. (And I dwell on this because I see, rather I hear, the implicit modernist attitude as a huge barrier to decolonizing, broadly speaking....)
Josquin Desprez in Italia then presents another mixed program around the Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae — & didn't make a great first impression on me either, again due to the mixed program & competition for this mass. (This might be the Tallis Scholars' best rendition, for instance.) But I ended up enjoying the forceful interpretation & program quite a bit with more exposure. It's an extrovert reading, sometimes with rather large forces including instrumental support, but also managing some delicacy at times.... There's little new here, really, but this might also be the most directly satisfying Anniversary album: It's a consistently strong mood modulator, and does seem to synthesize a variety of Josquin performance experiences. The program includes other great items as well. (And Ensemble Odhecaton had recorded Josquin in the past.)
And then, Stewart herself also released a Josquin Anniversary disc, In memoria mea, its included memorials to Josquin once again doubling the (Anniversary) theme. The featured mass is the Missa Mater patris, but I'm not thrilled by this reading: Again, the Tallis Scholars version is particularly good (& the last recorded by them?), but Stewart seems to take the general distension that can arise from her style to another level, with the longer text movements seeming almost to fall apart.... I actually enjoy the other included material more, particularly the ending sequence of memorial motets, building to the 7-part maybe-Willaert piece & articulated by canons.... Overall, there's a sort of eeriness to this production — perhaps not so unlike Josquin the Undead — but often a sighing quality, with little "punch" for the mass cycle in particular. Still, Stewart has been working in this field for a long time, and so I do need to take what she releases seriously — even if it starts to feel more stylized. (In this, the recent Hanai performances do seem more consistent.)
Released in 2018, but included here in order to expand the narrative a bit:
The Spirit like a Dove features a cycle spurned by the NJE, Missa Quem dicunt homines: As discussed in the notes, this is not only a superb mass cycle, but a good example (perhaps?) of how expectations around Josquin's style can lead to a form of confirmation bias: In other words, the mass is in a style (i.e. parody) that Josquin didn't employ (otherwise), therefore it's not by Josquin. But there's also really no alternate explanation for who wrote it. I enjoy it, including in this rendition, and it sounds like Josquin's work to me, specific techniques aside.... (Per this theory, it would also postdate the Petrucci cycles.)
Finally, as already suggested, my sense of dissatisfaction around the Josquin discography, and hence the Anniversary, has most to do with motet recordings: Basically, there's no systematic coverage, no "central" release. Instead there're a variety of mixed, overlapping programs in different styles. And that can be enjoyable, but it seems as though a more comprehensive recording project would really help to take analysis of this music to another level.... And in my case, an orientation on the motets goes back to studying Gustav Reese's Music in the Renaissance (1954), where he positions motets as Josquin's greatest works. (For other composers, such as Obrecht, Reese highlights the masses, so he doesn't seem biased....) One basic reason has already been noted: The motets tend to be more forward-looking, including in moving to five- or six-part writing, but also in setting "new" texts (many of which are actually e.g. Biblical, but some of which were truly contemporary). These were thus more likely to be imitated directly by Josquin's successors (i.e. with less prior competition...) — including for their nascent ideas on word painting. Moreover, whereas the mass was obviously able to accommodate a variety of compositional styles, it retains a singular sense of "genre," while in some sense, the great motets forged their own genres: Subsequent composers would set e.g. Inviolata or Benedicta es with reference to Josquin.... (One can also parse these "genres" as new arenas for religious propaganda & debate, in what would continue to be a very contentious 16th century....)
Such a sense of multiplicity, including around genre for the individual texts, is also a challenge for performers in a couple of basic ways: The larger number of pieces in a motet program tends to involve a greater stylistic variety, and hence more preparation of individual pieces. (That's obviously already true of learning the texts alone.) And then, aside from this "complete" program (that I keep soliciting), there's the question of constructing an album: There've been e.g. general anthologies of Josquin motets, some thematic groupings, maybe (& this hasn't been done as much...) a collection of related settings by peers, of course the inclusion of motets in programs centered on a mass.... (There's also the issue of the different stylistic groupings among the motets precluding a unified interpretive stance.... I'm not sure how much of an issue this really is, but there would be practical issues to confront in any complete program, i.e. beyond what completeness means.) And beyond thematic groupings, there're technical groupings as well, although these tend not to have clear boundaries, given Josquin's interest in hybrid styles. In particular, Dufay already seems to have been a two-pronged influence on Josquin's motets, both in that the latter recalls isorhythmic construction in some of his major works, and that he also wrote pieces in a simpler, functional style perhaps recalling the former's three-voice harmonized chant settings (hymns). Josquin seems, likewise, to have wanted basically to enhance the liturgy with polyphony, and so it's unclear if all of his settings — especially all of the four-voice settings, as that'd become the new standard — are music of similar (high) stature. To help with these determinations, of course what we really need is to hear more, especially in consistent & attentive renditions...!
And the Anniversary did see some further motet releases, including from performers who'd been featured in contemporaneous (or earlier) music — despite my earlier comments about little overlap with performers of non-Josquin music of the period.... (So that's an interesting trend too.) The programs have tended to be mixed, though, incorporating other genres: In large part, this appears to be to break up the flow of the album, rather than just to present vocal motet after vocal motet (i.e. anthology style).... Anyway, the remaining Anniversary programs, again presented chronologically by release:
Stabat Mater actually appeared in late 2020, a brightly colored & "catchy" album, incorporating a variety of genres, including some of the great motets.... Performance styles also vary here, across a few different recording dates for different tracks, such that some motets are given intimate one-to-a-part vocal readings, while others feature instrumental support or e.g. a horn taking the tenor. (There's also the long motetti-missale cycle associated with Milan, and this is pleasant but unexciting music....) In each case, though, the music comes through strongly, and Cantica Symphonia has been developing this Italianate style in 15th century music in general... pieces associated with Italy being their theme here (as well as elsewhere). The main issue with Stabat Mater, though, is the relatively lighter material that occupies much of the program.
Motets & Mass Movements, with its generic title & sequence of motets in different categories, is surely the closest to a "motet anthology" released for the Anniversary. The Brabant Ensemble is also a group specializing in the 16th century — albeit a group able to muster considerable precision & delicacy to support their often distant acoustic — but one that I'd already featured in La Rue.... Despite the distant sound, and precise colorings, there's almost a sense of intimacy coming through the precision here, although ultimately the group does rely on feelings of space, i.e. alternations & register. Attention to detail is strong, though, and so despite including questionable or lesser pieces in the program (intentionally it seems — meaning, are they considering subsequent volumes?), I've retained an interest in this release since it appeared. It's not an ideal program for simply listening as an album, though, as interest does tend to fade by the end....
And In Principio is probably the most superficially appropriate program here, i.e. all vocal & full of (authentic) motets from beginning to end. It's also from Walter Testolin & De Labyrintho, who'd recorded a couple of worthwhile Josquin programs in the early 21st century. Actually, the present program was developed twenty years ago per the notes, and then revisited for the Anniversary. (And this is an example of a thematic collection of motets....) The sound is thus enjoyable in its general affective sweep, but attention to detail is lacking here: One piece tends to run into the next, with little sense of distinction — or rather, requiring more effort on the part of the listener. There's a general affectivity still, an overall sense of the period, e.g. in the framing genealogy motets, where the somewhat distant churning (of relatively repetitive material from Josquin...) creates a hypnotic effect. Nothing ever really sparkles in its details, though, with articulation often relying on shifts in dynamics. I'm also unsure (in general) what to make of the largest motet here, O admirabile commercium (a4): Is this a great work, or more generic counterpoint relative to Josquin's oeuvre? The present rendition doesn't make much impression (& there was e.g. a late twentieth century program by Stewart too...).
Josquin's Legacy is then not entirely (or even mostly) devoted to Josquin. Indeed, the program is somewhat curious given the title, as it does include pieces from the sixteenth century as I'd expect, but also some of Josquin's works in an earlier style — such that it leads off with Ockeghem! This is curious for me in that the group, The Gesualdo Six, is oriented toward the 17th century, and the mid-16th century renditions here are clearly the strongest. (And this is a very precise vocal ensemble. Note that they were also employed by Paolo Da Col on Josquin Desprez in Italia, to add vocalists for some tracks. In fact, they recorded Josquin's Legacy one month later, and even reprised O virgo prudentissima from that prior album! So an interesting little connection....) Their renditions of the earlier repertory quickly bring feelings of malaise for me, though, in that the fifths are tempered, i.e. don't expand into "proper" cadences... such that mean-tone quickly sounds "cramped" here, but does work better for some later pieces. (The basic sense of "legacy" would also seem to suggest pieces that Josquin inspired, rather than earlier work....) I guess the group simply wanted to record the 15th century, but their later material is more appealing, including a couple of Josquin renditions worth noting (below).
So in many cases, it seems that the motets are less self-conscious than the mass cycles — although some may have involved revisions too. Nonetheless, they often seem closer to their functional uses. And this presents issues for programs such as the above too, as assembling selections of motets into enjoyable overall programs (as already noted...) seems to be a real barrier to recording them! Or maybe it's a matter of too much pressure from people like me....
But as promised, I also want to run through a series of motets & recent performances. My prompt for this list is basically "motets popular with performers" & so I'll be focusing on those recorded in more than one (major?) rendition during the 21st century. (I'm also ignoring the motet-chansons, albeit some of Josquin's best works, but as noted, particularly well served in recording these days. However, I should add that these sorts of hybrid or crossover works do provide a welcome opportunity, perhaps, to "triangulate" the stylistic layers of Josquin's output....) To the Anniversary releases already named, then, I'll be adding a few other programs for comparison below: Miserere mei Deus (from Daniel Reuss) appeared only in 2018, so not long ago, and it's a rarity in being an all-Josquin motet program, even as the more contemporary choral orientation didn't make a strong impression with me at the time (& I did indeed review this album in 2018...). There're also "classic" motet programs by Herreweghe (1986) & the Orlando Consort (1999) — the former being my first Josquin recommendation at the FAQ in 1994, while the latter (also) illustrates that performing all of this music in mean tone (as technically impressive as it might be...) doesn't really work. And those are pretty clearly the main late 20th century programs — there are surprisingly few others. Then there're the four mixed-program albums that I had listed for my Josquin recommendations prior to the Anniversary, two from the era of the complete mass recordings (which is basically the era that I want to consider here...), i.e. one from Cappella Pratensis album under Stratton Bull (2014) & a Leipzig program directed by Ludwig Böhme (2010) — and then the two earlier Testolin programs, Music for Ercole I d'Este (2004) & Musica Symbolica (2006). (Testolin has thus recorded the most Josquin motets in the 21st century.) This set for consideration is certainly not complete, though, as I could've also added earlier recordings by performers already featured here, i.e. Stewart, Hanai & Da Col. (Plus others not mentioned!) And then, of course, there're the various tracks on programs not devoted to Josquin.... Indeed, I could very much be missing great one-off tracks for this survey, but I've been focusing on albums for this entire period: I prefer to hear this music as an album, not to switch performers every track, etc. And this preference has only been confirmed of late. (It's probably also worth noting that more motets seem to be divided into multiple tracks these days, perhaps raising their associated gravity, but also making them harder to program in playlists....)
Anyway, my main concern for this survey was to evaluate the Anniversary releases, not the earlier items, so perhaps my relative lack of completeness can be forgiven.... (I'm trying, in part, to "start fresh" with the Anniversary.) So without further ado, a series of thoughts on (mostly recent) recordings of individual motets:
Absolve quaesumus (a6) is an homage to Obrecht, an impressive canonic setting incorporating the Requiem chant. It's had a big, chordal & sometimes incoherent presentation from Reuss. It's also had the Stewart rendition already noted above, colorful & demonstrative for her group. The latter is rather compelling, although it can seem to be a step along the way to the concluding (anonymous) setting. (The latter is certainly a great track.)
Alma redemptoris mater (a4) is somewhat old-fashioned, but also combines two texts. It comes off as a classic (Marian) piece. And Stephen Rice emphasizes separate registers, while Testolin enacts a gentler reading.... But both project a broadly iconic work, animating much characteristic material of the period.
Ave Maria ... virgo serena (a4) is perhaps Josquin's most famous motet, appearing in a variety of programs (i.e. beyond consideration here). The old Herreweghe reading comes off as rushed, but with big cadences, while Stile Antico provide a more coherent rendition, although hazier in the lower voices, and strangely balanced as a kind of re-supplication following the Kyrie.... And then Cantica Symphonia comes off in huge sound, despite only 8 unaccompanied voices, clearly shaped & with excellent detail. So there's a clear choice among these three, although there're surely others of note.... (Note further that there's a similarly titled but different piece, Ave Maria ... benedicta tu, that's also been prominent in Josquin motet discussions, although apparently not nearly as popular with musicians of the 21st century — but it does appear on the Orlando Consort disc....) And I guess, at this point, I'm actually kind of numb to this piece, affectively.
Ave nobilissima creatura (a6) has been relatively neglected since the Herreweghe program, where it's one of the most coherent tracks. It does appear more recently from Böhme, but in a rather foggy rendition. This is one of Josquin's most appealing motets, Marian & recalling isorhythmic procedures....
Benedicta es, caelorum regina (a6) was already noted above, and also receives a great reading from Cantica Symphonia, including with some delicacy. The older version from Testolin can seem a bit noisy in comparison, but does build a potency of its own. This can be a powerfully assertive work, based on the liturgical sequence. This might not be classic Josquin, in terms of historical-theoretical discussions, but it's among his best pieces.
Ecce tu pulchra es (a4) is another quality, in this case rather intimate, rendition from Cantica Symphonia. It comes off as both flowing & austere. Thélème also do a straight reading on their album, also with nice intimacy & close shaping — although they don't go for the same sort of vocal balance/blend, so it's choppier.
Factum est autem (a4) is a lengthy genealogy motet, so consisting of a rather repetitive text, but handled with some sophistication by Josquin. It's also one of the better recent tracks from Testolin (along with the framing Liber generationis, a4, to which similar comments apply...), seeming subdued at times, but building to a solid conclusion. There's also the rendition on The Spirit like a Dove, and that's a more colorful reading, boisterous perhaps, but more enjoyable over time....
Huc me sydereo (a5/6) is another intricate piece suggesting some isorhythmic background (& apparently related to Ave nobilissima creatura). The Orlando Consort give the fastest reading, a sort of thickly chordal & nondescript approach. Brabant can lack presence, but open the lower textures, and conjure almost a sense of vertigo, with nice colors but a bit of sighing dynamics.... Da Col's reading is then relatively delicate, even thin, with less clarity than Brabant.
Illibata Dei virgo nutrix (a5) is another classic Josquin motet, also suggesting isorhythmic tradition, and even including Josquin's "signature" as an acrostic. And the Testolin version from earlier in the century is enjoyable & clear, lively but not repetitive. But the Gesualdo Six rendition, while a bit unbalanced at times, is the stronger & more direct reading, a quality contribution from them to update this piece. (Although it's probably still relatively early.)
In principio erat Verbum (a4) is the title track on the latest from Testolin, but ends up seeming ponderous & kind of generic.... The same can be said of the reading from Reuss, which moves quickly into episodic alternations & develops a thick sound. This piece is featured in Josquin analysis, though, especially among the four-part motets, so I'm not sure what to think. Maybe it just needs a more attentive interpretation to open it up more to the ear....
Inviolata, integra et casta es (a5) is another Josquin classic, already opening The Orlando Consort program, there a little tentative & with some rhythmic slack... although tuning isn't a real issue. Stile Antico takes it up too (placing it between Gloria & Credo), and produces a relatively delicate reading — the slowest here, and perhaps the most enjoyable track on their album. And then Da Col's group makes this into one of the strongest tracks on their album as well, a rendition I'd clearly recommend, before ending with the twelve-part reworking (not usually considered to be by Josquin...) that also closes Musica Symbolica.... For me, this is one of the great works of the period (even as I might question its politics today). Although it wasn't emphasized by Reese, it's clearly become popular to record of late, and increasingly emblematic for me too.
Miserere mei Deus (a5) has clearly been one of Josquin's greatest (& longest) motets, including e.g. closing the Herreweghe album, where it quickly bogs down into a series of motivic climaxes.... Testolin also concludes Music for Ercole I d'Este with this piece, although it can end up seeming rhetorically aimless there too.... It didn't reappear for the Anniversary, but there was the Reuss recently, the title track in his case, and the quickest reading here, bright & steady, but not with a lot of clarity of line or form.... So in this case, I guess I'll note the single Josquin track on Scattered Ashes (2016), where it opens the program as the earliest piece, as most impressive rendition: That ensemble overlaps with the Tallis Scholars, and turns in the slowest reading, but while maintaining great tension & attention to linear unfolding. After decades, this remains among the most "Josquin!" pieces for me.
Missus est Gabriel angelus (a4) is a relatively short & direct piece, but also effective. Bull concludes his mass program with it, although the colors there tend to be enveloped in fog.... Testolin's recent reading is more filigree, even pretty in its swirling. (And this track abstracts from that program rather well.)
Mittit ad Virginem (a4) can also be a delicate piece, more aimless in the otherwise pleasant reading from Bull, but steadier (including via alternations) to open the Brabant album.... Maybe it should've made a more concrete impression on me by now, but I guess it hasn't.
O bone et dulcissime Jesu (a4) is another piece that didn't seem to receive much recent attention, that is until Brabant turns in one of their most characteristic & flowing readings, relatively slow, the muted colors maintaining a sort of tension through the big sound.... Previously, Herreweghe's version was among his most disjointed, while The Orlando Consort likewise seem incoherent.
O virgo prudentissima (a6) is then another Josquin classic, e.g. closing the Orlando Consort album (as perhaps the most satisfying track), but also appearing on consecutive new releases from Odhecaton (where it's delicate & clear, with alternations...) & the Gesualdo Six (who also participated with Odhecaton, and turn in the fastest reading here, intimate but also disjointed at times...). There's some thematic ambivalence here for me, but this has always been a great "Josquin" piece.
O virgo virginum (a6) is then something of a pair (with the previous item), very steady from the Orlando Consort, but also particularly calling out for full fifths... and then rather rambling & murky from Böhme.... But Testolin does turn in a solid reading on his new album, grave, but indeed rather undifferentiated....
And Pater noster (a6) hasn't actually had much recent attention (although it's included in The Josquin Songbook...), but it's associated with Josquin's personal memorial plans. There's the rather mechanical reading from Reuss....
Praeter rerum seriem (a6) is then a grand motet that'd fallen relatively out of fashion — until the Anniversary. Testolin adopts a big, hazy sound (that he says he wishes was bigger...) & a rather rhetorical quality, but does pack some punch, producing a quality reading. Da Col opens his album with this piece, in a taut rumble that can be tangibly exciting, particularly building toward the rest of the program.... If ever "haunting" is to be applied to this oeuvre, this is the place.
Salve Regina (a5) is another Marian piece, and continues to be recorded regularly. This is simply a fantastic piece (& not to be confused with Josquin's four-voice version). Herreweghe's reading is then (typically) fast, but fairly coherent. Testolin opens Music for Ercole I d'Este with it, although much of that album seems generic today. Then Cantica Symphonia make a sort of charming offering, around using two sackbuts for the tenor... I'm ambivalent. And Stile Antico also open The Golden Renaissance with this piece, strong at first, then bringing in what seem like rhetorical gestures, i.e. to set the stage for their idiosyncratic mass reading. Da Col's recent track is simply great, though, controlled & clear within a big acoustic. Iconic.
Stabat Mater (a5) is yet another great piece... one of my favorites, hybrid around the Binchois tenor (& so almost a sort of motet-chanson?). It was already the title track for Herreweghe, falling into sighing dynamics, but also a passionate reading.... And it's the title track again for Giuseppe Maletto, there in a grand production with instrumental support — the quickest reading, assertive but a little foggy acoustically. It's also presented more intimately by Brabant Ensemble, a little later in their program, with subtle climaxes & tautly powerful precision.... There're really no superlatives enough for this motet!
And Usquequo, Domine (a4), a strange piece of dubious attribution, continues to be performed as well: From the hurried Herreweghe to the contrasting registers & controlled clarity of Rice....
Ut Phoebi radiis (a4) is then another motet with an isorhythmic feel, here involving hexachord manipulations. (It's thus rather abstract.) The Orlando Consort reading comes off a bit tentatively, but does build coherence as it goes, tempered cadences aside.... Testolin can also seem timid to start, with weak articulation, but his version does cohere structurally. However, it's actually Thélème that turns in the strongest reading, perhaps a bit disjointed around their colorful energy & eccentric declamation, but ultimately assertive & clear in proportion. Although their rendition might lack some polish, it's very worth hearing: This is exactly the sort of "close reading" style that I'd like to hear anthologized, and they really bring this little gem to life (without fear — & theirs is probably the bravest album of the Anniversary).
Virgo salutiferi genitrix (a5) is somewhat mysterious & disjointed on Testolin's first Josquin album, but sparsely precise from Stile Antico.... There's also a sense of "losing the plot" in the latter (& the piece is placed between Benedictus & Agnus), with a sort of sighing ecstasy.... (And I was surprised not to find this polished, double-texted piece on more programs.)
But Vultum tuum deprecabuntur (a4) is actually a cycle of seven motets, apparently intended to substitute for the mass (i.e. as motetti-missale): This is pleasant music, and also relatively generic for Josquin. And I haven't kept up on thoughts regarding authenticity either, but all of the Milan output seems to raise questions these days.... Both the Orlando Consort & Cantica Symphonia fill out their programs with this cycle, the former testing some alternative theories on what belongs.... (And perhaps this cycle should be compared directly with Dufay's hymn style. It's relatively straightforward, setting liturgical texts.)
And then there are the dubious pieces, i.e. those now mostly considered to be by other composers: Both Absalon, fili mi (a4) & De profundis (a5) continue to be popular to record in this category — now regarded as by La Rue & Champion, respectively. But both Reuss & the Gesualdo Six recorded the former, while the Orlando Consort (admittedly earlier...) & Reuss (again) recorded the latter, under Josquin's name. These are fine pieces, but I don't think of them as by Josquin anymore....
This series of brief notes does, presumably, also suggest avenues for further recording.... (And I don't want to render it into more "polished" form either, as I'm hoping that various entries will soon need revision — not that I'm intending to undertake revisions here. This discussion is to remain a specific snapshot in the wake of 2021.)
As mentioned above, issues of tuning are barely discussed for this music, at least not in writing — & I say that specifically, since issues of tuning were surely confronted in the practical sense of performance. But how explicit were these discussions? Some of the productions above, as noted, indeed some of those that put the most effort into tuning (albeit without informing the listener in writing...) are oriented on rendering mean tone. Here I'll call them unsuccessful experiments. So what are the issues? Although mean-tone keyboard tuning is known from prior to this period, the idea that these sorts of engineering-keyboard technology issues would dictate the tuning of prestigious vocal polyphony — especially that performed at the leading, often very traditional, courts — seems misguided to me: While keyboard engineers hoped to be able to perform "every" piece of music without retuning the instrument, these vocal works actually involve only finite sets of pitches. In other words, they can all be rendered in "just intonation" by the voices, i.e. by whatever precise ratio of tones is musically apt. And thus I want to consider & posit musica ficta as basically an issue of tuning: It's a matter of choosing the specific pitch a particular (named) note should have (in context) — with the limited focus on flats & sharps being a modern simplification, i.e. conditioned by later tempered systems with limited pitch choices. And decisions on ficta — including per Urquhart's new book, emphasizing linear relations — are then inflected by both horizontal & vertical concerns. (Modern editors have generally prioritized vertical concerns, i.e. simplifying simultaneous interval ratios.) Basically, these are decisions regarding the precise pitch to sing at any given moment, the decisions only posing a "conflict" or challenge in a few places.... And these decisions, per the methods of the era, were generally made by singers on the fly, based on their knowledge of the musical context. (Such a situation obviously confirms, yet again, that more experience is helpful in this repertory!) So in that sense, "Pythagorean" is a meaningless label, at least in its specifics, as one must simply (but not necessarily via simplification...) pick the musical relations to emphasize at any particular moment. (This doesn't mean opting for the simplest vertical interval in every moment! But rather considerations of linear intervals, i.e. history, as well....) Yes, Pythagorean tuning emphasized fifths, but more than that, it simply isn't tempered — & could, theoretically, involve infinitely many different pitches. In any case, another factor that's operated as something of a "paradox" for this music is that, with its wider fifths, contemporary equal temperament is actually "closer" to Pythagorean than is mean tone... the latter, i.e. the first systematic attempts at temperament per se, actually posing a historical discontinuity. (And moreover, the sort of era-spanning "distance" cultivated by Josquin's revision regime can apparently allow equal temperament to resonate adequately in these works, accommodating a further sort of distance....) What am I saying then? Simply this: The finite set of pitches required for any of these pieces can be identified (relatively speaking, and perhaps with difficulty...) & then tuned in whatever ratios are desired. There's no need for generically tempered intervals to be employed.
Including per remarks on Reese above, my musical studies involved considerations of this music as Renaissance music, i.e. the latter basically beginning from the 1420s. Such a periodization does maintain in various sources today as well (while there're others identifying "the Renaissance" already with the Italian Trecento...), but e.g. French scholarship has long presented the late 15th century as "autumn of the middle ages...." (And in some sense, one can simply posit overlapping eras, including via whatever specific criteria one cares to name, and decide whether medieval or modern aspects should be emphasized, contextually.... Such a division, at least in broad terms, is often ultimately arbitrary.) Consequently, with my own medieval orientation, it's made sense to "expand" a sense of the medieval, and that's one motivation at work here... i.e. continuity with earlier music. But I've also come, increasingly, to place the general beginning of modernity with European imperialism in the wake of Columbus, which both gives me a nice round number to use (1500), and corresponds rather well to the beginning of commercial music printing (1501). And then there's the Reformation, imminent e.g. across the end of Josquin's career.... So I've come to embrace a rather broad periodization, under which Josquin is a late medieval composer (or, arguably, the first modern composer...). But there're other issues around a turn to the modern era: Contemporary writers (modernists, that is) have a tendency to glorify everything about modernity (whereas it's main "feature" for me is imperialism...), meaning that music such as Josquin's will be presented as "leading to" something else, i.e. something better. (A similar issue plagues tuning, as per the prior digression, earlier situations are taken to prefigure modern situations, despite not being in any relation.) And that involves something of a "moral" judgment as well, e.g. notions of primitive peoples or primitive religions.... None of this is the least bit helpful when it comes to pondering decolonizing today, though, not simply as a matter of justice (whatever that means to various people...), but as a practical matter of the value of different ideas: Whereas ideas on ecology & living in balance are at a particular premium today, this goes for culture & music as well. (After all, I want to reject completely modern notions of a "civilizing mission," i.e. the sense that imperialism was actually helpful for other peoples! And more specific suggestions that Western patriarchy e.g. knows better "how to treat women" are offensive as well.... Other peoples need to regain our own reputations, so to speak.) And so medieval music, including Josquin's, does illustrate such historical variety & value, even as confined to a European context, affirming that the premodern has much to offer — on its own terms — including its own sorts of sophistication.
But of course, there're various religious themes embedded in this repertory (including within nominally secular items, which in a decolonial context, might not actually be any more agreeable...), and certainly within Josquin's music per se. In fact, they're right out front. One aspect I've noted above, then, is the sort of contemporary feminism that seeks to critique Christian patriarchy. And let me be clear, patriarchy is the single biggest problem with the Catholic Church (after hierarchy per se, I suppose), so I don't want to dismiss such concerns. But I do want to recall e.g. that the late medieval era was one of increasing rights & power for women (see e.g. Gerda Lerner), while the early modern period was the era of the iconic witch hunts, of stripping women of property rights in Europe, and of undertaking an all-out assault (differentially...) on women across the world via colonization. So let's not be smug about what followed Josquin, even if his Marian stance involved glorifying things such as virginity (not exactly feminist...)! These are also — directly — matters of cultural hegemony. So why am I here? Why am I interested? First of all, my embrace of the arch-famous Josquin in particular (as per the intro...) is relatively reluctant! But "modernity studies" do very much concern me, and so also cultural origins (i.e. in order to frame "the modern era" from both before & after perspectives...). And in the postmodern era, music's "non-solid" (e.g. fluid) character seems to give it a particular penetrating power, but of course, maybe that's simply my own sonic orientation at work.... In any case, polyphony of this era also interrogates the relation between individual & collective (as e.g. the tuning digression raises once again, via horizontal & vertical...), and moreover, provides a dazzling array of options & alternatives. Not unlike our contemporary economic context, then, the notion that Western tonality is inherently & exclusively musical, i.e. without alternative, is simply wrong. (That one can make the argument via its own history makes this extra delicious.) So I have plenty of interest animating my involvement here, although I can't say that Christianity per se is one of them. I do find the music affective, though, and in a meaningful way. And as I've written elsewhere, religion — as a basic sense of connection with other people — does (continue to) matter, even aside from specific notions of creed. (Indeed, criticism of Christianity today appears, mainly, to be about glorifying capitalism — i.e. the modern system of state-supported private hoarding for wealth. But traditional Christianity does have real problems too, despite my ongoing willingness to enjoy its music....)
To Remarks on Recent Recordings (reviews).
To 2021 "Recordings of the Year" discussion.
To EM FAQ Josquin discography (large, unsorted).
To selective sacred polyphony recordings list.
To selective secular songs recordings list.Todd M. McComb 4 February 2022