Josquin’s Secrets

“A certain famous man said that Josquin produced more motets after his death than during his life.” So joked the German music publisher Georg Forster in 1540, nineteen years after the death of Josquin des Prez, the most celebrated composer the world had known. He had lived and died admired and respected, then as now. But loved? With reservations then, and with greater but different reservations now. The course of his extraordinary career and reputation, in this the five-hundredth anniversary year of his death, needs some unpacking. Josquin died on August 27, 1521. Since then he has been called the first musical superstar, and his influence likened to that of Beethoven; and, like Beethoven, he became the standard by which every subsequent composer in his tradition was judged, directly influencing most of them. So why is he not the household name that Palestrina and Tallis are? (There are such households.)

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