Composer Spotlight Palm Sunday: Josquin Desprez

April 7, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Palm Sunday: Josquin Desprez

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Palm Sunday (April 9th) will be:

  • Orlando Gibbons – Hosanna to the Son of David
  • Tomás Luis de Victoria – Pueri Hebraeorum
  • Plainsong – The Passion according to Matthew
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Improperium expectavit
  • Josquin Desprez – Sanctus de Passione
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Stabat Mater

– Blog Editor


 Orlando Gibbons was born at Oxford in 1583. As a young man, he sang in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, during his brother Edward’s tenure as Master of the Choristers. In 1605, he won for himself a place in the Chapel Royal choir, and by 1615 was sharing the duties of or-ganist there. In 1623, he became organist of Westminster Abbey. He died an untimely death at the age of 42. His exuberant setting of Hosanna to the Son of David, the opening anthem of the Palm Sunday liturgy, is one of his finest compositions.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina is thought to have been born in Palestrina, a town in the Sabine hills near Rome, in 1525, and he died in Rome the 2nd of February in 1594. His first musical training seems to have been in Rome at S Maria Maggiore, where he was listed as a choirboy in October 1537. In October 1544, he was appointed as organist at the cathedral of S Agapito in Palestrina, where he remained until his appointment in 1551 as maestro of the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s in Rome. In 1554, Palestrina published his first book of masses, dedicated to Pope Julius III. In January 1551, he was admitted to the Cappella Sistina, the Pope’s official chapel, on orders of the Pope without examination and despite being married. Three months later Julius died and was succeeded by Marcellus II, who in turn died within about three weeks. The next pope, Paul VI, insisted on full compliance with the chapel’s rule on celibacy, and Palestrina was dismissed in September of 1555. In the following month, Palestrina was appointedmaestro di cappella at St. John Lateran, where he stayed until he left in 1560 following a dispute with the chapter over the financing of the musicians. His next known employment was again at S Maria Maggiore, where he passed the next 5 years combining this post with work for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este and teaching at the Seminario Romano. In April of 1571 he took up his last appointment and returned to the post of maestro of the Cappella Giulia, where he remained to his death.

The Stabat Mater dolorosa is a hymn, describing and commenting on the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the cross, which originated in the Middle Ages and which was subsequently prescribed as a sequence for the Feasts of the Seven Sorrows of the BVM. The “sequence” originated as a form of chant, usually fairly extensive in length as well as range, which was interpolated into the liturgy of the mass after the Gradual and Alleluia. By Palestrina’s time, it had become traditional to sing a setting of the Stabat Mater during communion at High Mass on Palm Sunday in the Sistine Chapel. Palestrina set the proper offertory text for Palm Sunday, Improperium expectavit for five voices.

Josquin Desprez was arguably the greatest composer of the high Renaissance. His works – including 18 completed masses, nearly 100 motets, and dozens of secular pieces – represent a synthesis and summation of polyphonic art of the late 15th and early 16th century. The object of admiration from both literary and musical figures of the day, Josquin was a favorite composer of Martin Luther, whose famous quote praises him as “master of the notes…while other composers must do what the notes dictate.”

From 1489 to 1495, Josquin was a member of the papal choir, first under Pope Innocent VIII, and later under the Borgia pope Alexander VI. He may have gone there as part of a singer exchange with Gaspar van Weerbeke, who went back to Milan at the same time. While there, he may have been the one who carved his name into the wall of the Sistine Chapel; a “JOSQUINJ” was recently revealed by workers restoring the chapel. Since it was traditional for singers to carve their names into the walls, and hundreds of names were inscribed there during the period from the 15th to the 18th centuries, it is considered highly likely that the graffiti is by Josquin – and if so, it would be his only surviving autograph

Josquin’s Sanctus de Passione was intended to be sung at masses during Passiontide. The setting is extra-ordinarily restrained, with one of the simplest settings of the words “Hosanna in excelsis”.

Composer Spotlight: Josquin Desprez
Here is a link to his Missa Pange lingua – based on the hymn we sing on Maundy Thursday during the procession to the altar of repose.

And for his setting of Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus. We use Allegri’s setting on Ash Wednesday. But in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it would have been sung at the conclusion of the Tenebrae service.

– David Shuler, Director of Music

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