Josquin des Prez La déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem Arranged for Cello Quintet
Arranged by Charles Jacot
Title: La déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem (for Cello Quintet)
Composer: Josquin des Prez
Edited By: Charles Jacot
Instrumentation: Violoncello Ensemble
Pages: 8 for the score and 9 for the five cello parts
Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1455 to 1521) was the preeminent composer of his era. The polyphonic style of music that he helped to create during the Renaissance melded together different European styles into winding melodic lines, complex counterpoint, and homophonic texture.
It is possible that Josquin studied counterpoint in his youth under the composer Johannes Ockeghem. Ockeghem himself wrote an obituary piece for his teacher Binchois, using his teacher’s style. After Ockeghem’s death in 1497, Josquin wrote this lament, La déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem, (also called Nymphes des Bois, or Nymphs of the Wood), and Josquin, in turn, imitated elements of Ockeghem’s style. The text is from a poem by Jean Molinet. The piece is an exquisite 5-part chanson, full of rich harmonies, soaring lines, and imaginative word-painting. Ockeghem’s compositional traits included complex counterpoint, expressiveness, low vocal registers, and active bass lines, all of which Josquin uses in this lovely tribute. The word painting in this piece is striking. For the line “...it is a great sorrow that the earth must cover him,” the voices descend as if into the grave, finally resting in a long cadence. Following this, the contemporary composers, Josquin, Pierre de la Rue, Brumel, and Compére are told to put on mourning clothes and to weep great tears. In this passage, the former 5-part texture suddenly drops one voice. It returns in the final phrase, where the cantus firmus from the requiem mass is used. The Déploration would serve as a lovely and meditative piece in a memorial or funeral service.
Josquin’s vocal writing translates quite well to cello ensemble. The harmonies are rich and close and the range tends toward the typical cello range. I would encourage players to attempt these pieces with minimal or no vibrato, instead concentrating on the purity of sound and harmony, as well as the shaping of phrases and balancing of the interweaving lines. The translations also give the rehearsal letters for the appropriate lines.
Below is the text for Josquin's La déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem:
Nymphs of the wood, goddesses of the springs,
Skilled singers of all nations, (A)
Change your voices, clear and lofty, (B)
Into sharp cries and lamentations, (C)
For Atropos*, terrible satrap, (D)
Has inescapably ensnared your Ockeghem, (E)
Music’s true treasure and master, (F)
Who henceforth no longer escapes death, (G)
Of whom it is a great sorrow that the earth must cover him. (H)
Put on the clothes of mourning, (J)
Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon, Compere,
And weep great tears from your eyes,
For you have lost your good father.
May he rest in peace. (K)
* Atropos was the Greek fate who had the task of cutting the thread of a mortal life with her shears.