Missa L’ami Baudichon

The early Missa L’ami Baudichon shows the young composer at the beginning of his career, exploring what he could do with the form.

Missa L’ami Baudichon, written at around the same time as Missa Une mousse de Biscaye in the mid-1470s, is based on just three notes from an eponymous popular folk tune of the time, which to an English ear sound distractingly like the opening of Three Blind Mice. It makes few demands on the listener outside enjoying a luminous major sonority—the result of an unusually wide gap between the high-lying soprano part and the next part down, compared to the other masses.

The vulgarity of the original song—it contains a reference to female genitals—makes it an unusual starting point for a sacred work; yet despite this it survives in one of the Vatican choirbooks, where presumably it was sung as part of the liturgy. In the only source of the song to give the text, now in Verona, the rude word is simply omitted, though there is no doubt what it should be, since the song itself was often mentioned in contemporary poems about dance and theater. Its popularity may have stemmed from the extraordinary popularity of the name “Baudichon,” which is recorded in over eighty different spellings throughout Europe. Of pre-­seventh-century French origin, it is derived from the word “baud,” meaning “joyful,” and was probably given as a nickname for a “lusty and swaggering youth”—fitting the context here rather well.

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The L’ami Baudichon tune

Josquin did surprisingly little with the handful of notes he took from the folk tune, which originally was in triple-time and had the most obvious tripartite structure, except elongate them, transpose them (very occasionally), and turn them upside down. The three fundamental notes are always repeated, either starting C or G; and just once—in the Credo—they are inverted, so the music seems to rise, where in the rest of the setting it inevitably seems to fall. They are almost always quoted in the tenor, very rarely giving rise to any counterpoints with the other voices, which is strange given how malleable these three notes could be made to be.

The final section of the Credo, covering 157 bars without break, is perhaps the most remarkable—because unexpected—passage of the whole setting: the music never falters.

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The L’ami Baudichon melody is quoted in the tenor voice throughout Josquin’s mass setting (manuscript from the 1520s, © Austrian National Library, Cod. 11778)

Because they are so innocuous the three notes are hard to pick out of the surrounding material, but perhaps they are most audible in the Agnus Dei I (which is the same as the third Agnus). Those who enjoy picking out longer notes can hear them throughout the final pages of the Credo, always in the third part down, starting at “Et resurrexit.” This final section, covering 157 bars without break, is perhaps the most remarkable—because unexpected—passage of the whole setting. The music never falters. Even though the tenor is always in long notes (and ends on an outrageous long-held high G), the surrounding phrases build and build to one of the most exciting “Amens” in the repertoire.

© Peter Phillips / Gimell Records

The Masses

The Masses

Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altar (1432, detail) © artinflanders.be (photo: Hugo Maertens, Dominique Provost)

Josquin wrote 18 mass settings during his lifetime and created a unique compositional method and sound world for each of them. Discover the richness and diversity of the masses through The Tallis Scholars’ award-winning recordings and essays by their founder and artistic director, Peter Phillips.

Missa Une mousse de Biscaye

Probably one of the first mass settings Josquin ever wrote, Missa Une mousse de Biscaye perhaps shows the late-medieval origins of his musical language more clearly than any other of his masses.

Missa L’ami Baudichon

The early Missa L’ami Baudichon shows the young composer at the beginning of his career, exploring what he could do with the form.

Missa Ad fugam

Composing complex canons was a hallmark of excellence for every 15th-century composer. Josquin wrote two entirely canonic masses—Ad fugam, the earlier one, may be his most rigid and mathematically dense composition.

Missa Di dadi

Can a Renaissance mass be composed by the throw of dice? Missa Di dadi shows Josquin’s passion for mathematical shenanigans—and for gambling.

Missa D’ung aultre amer

Josquin’s shortest mass setting is based on a melody by his revered teacher Johannes Ockeghem and contains a moving musical tribute to the older composer.

Missa Gaudeamus

Missa Gaudeamus represents Renaissance artistry at its most intense. Based on a substantial chant melody, it deploys mathematics in a number of clever, but rewardingly audible ways.

Missa La sol fa re mi

True to its name, Missa La sol fa re mi is based entirely on the notes represented by these five solmization syllables on the medieval scale. By choosing a model so brief and versatile, Josquin opened up a completely new world of musical referencing.

Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae

While he was working at the court of Ferrara, Italy, Josquin wrote an entire mass setting based on the name of his employer, Duke Ercole I.

Missa Faysant regretz

Building on the simplest four-note motif imaginable, Josquin creates some of his most densely argued and thrilling polyphony in the Missa Faysant regretz—a world of protean, swirling references and repetitions.

Missa Ave maris stella

Compact, smooth, concise—Missa Ave maris stella is the work of an assured and self-confident composer who has not only mastered the tools of his trade but redefines them for future generations.

Missa Fortuna desperata

The Wheel of Fortune is turning in Josquin’s mind-bending Missa Fortuna desperata, one of the first masses to be based on a polyphonic model rather than a simple melody.

Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales

Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales contains some of Josquin’s most complex compositional mathematics—a demonstration of his combinatorial prowess and a true miracle to his contemporaries.

Missa L’homme armé sexti toni

With its great variety of textures and easy-going yet sublime canons, Josquin’s second mass based on the popular “L’homme armé” melody feels like fantasia on the theme of the armed man, evoking minimalist sound worlds à la Philip Glass.

Missa Malheur me bat

In many of Josquin’s mass-settings the musical development culminates in the final movement—not unlike a Romantic symphony: the Agnus Dei of Missa Malheur me bat is a magnificent example and one of the greatest tours de force in the repertoire.

Missa Sine nomine

Josquin’s “nameless” mass is his second entirely canonic setting and shows the fruits of his experience in mathematical writing.

Missa De beata virgine

During his lifetime, this was the most frequently performed piece that Josquin had ever written—and it kept fascinating music scholars as far removed from Josquin’s time as the 18th century.

Missa Mater Patris

Missa Mater Patris exemplifies Josquin’s late-in-life, daring simplicity: gone is the dense polyphonic argument—instead we hear light, open textures delivered with a good deal of wit, even playfulness.

Missa Pange lingua

It is probably Josquin’s last mass setting—but it definitely is one of his best: the way Missa Pange lingua realizes a democratic conversation between all four voice parts had profound repercussions for later Renaissance music throughout Europe.