Missa Mater Patris

The daring simplicity of Josquin's late style

Josquin’s Missa Mater Patris is one of his most forthright compositions, full of daring in a bracingly simple style. In many people’s minds “simple” tends to mean “early” when categorizing an artist’s output. But where the simplicity is the result of an artist having refined something which has evolved over a lifetime, then it can also indicate “late,” as many elderly writers, painters, and musicians have shown over the centuries—Arvo Pärt is a current example. And paring down a highly developed method is exactly what Josquin shows in Mater Patris. Gone is the dense polyphonic argument of so much of his earlier music. In its place are light, open textures delivered with a good deal of wit, even playfulness.

In Mater patris Josquin quotes the music of a contemporary—Antoine Brumel—the only time in all his masses.

Alongside the unusual style of Mater Patris are Josquin’s detailed references to the music of Antoine Brumel. These also are unusual, since this is the only time in all his masses that Josquin quoted the music of a contemporary—and he went to unheard-of lengths with these quotations, most remarkably in the third Agnus Dei. Furthermore, for the rest of the composition Josquin derived all his principal themes from Brumel’s work. It seems likely, then, that he was close to Brumel in life, and decided to write a homage to him, perhaps shortly after his death in either 1512 or 1513. Whether this would make Mater Patris Josquin’s last mass setting depends on the date one gives to his Missa Pange lingua, which has long been said to represent his last thoughts in setting the texts of the Ordinary. However, the possibility remains that Josquin as an old man, after all the serious work, felt able to turn his hand to music which wears its learning lightly.

Mater Patris essentially has only two types of writing: highly imitative duets and solemn chord blocks which often round them off.

Unlike closely argued mass settings such as Gaudeamus or Sine nomine, Mater Patris essentially has only two types of writing, and these act as the perfect foil to each other: highly imitative duets, mostly sung by the two middle parts, and the solemn block-chords which often round them off. In addition to this there are three lengthy duets, all of them strict canons: “Pleni sunt caeli” at the second above; the Benedictus at the second below; and the second Agnus Dei at the unison. Their length is determined by the amount of repetition in the music, something which characterizes the mass as a whole and is derived from the Brumel model (the “Hosanna” quotes Brumel’s “exaudi” motif thirty-four times and at every modal pitch).

And then there is the third Agnus Dei, the astonishing crowning glory, where Josquin swallowed Brumel’s Mater Patris almost whole, making it form the three middle voices of a five-voice texture, the outside voices being newly composed. My favorite moment is just before the final block-chord statement of “Agnus Dei” where Josquin has added his own two parts to what was a duet in the model. He has heard the possibilities in the Brumel so clearly that his own inventions are just as interesting, especially the manner in which the bass keeps repeating the same two notes under Brumel’s music.

© 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.