Podcast: Master of the Notes

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Podcast: Master of the Notes

Podcast: Master of the Notes

Pietro Perugino, The Delivery of the Keys (1482) © Vatican Museums (photo: Eric Vandeville / akg images)

Who was Josquin? In spite of the composer’s celebrity during his lifetime, 500 years after his death this question has become quite difficult to answer. That’s why Shirley Apthorp and Willem Bruls set out to search for Josquin in their podcast “Master of the Notes,” following his traces across Europe in eight episodes.

Episode 1: Introduction

How did a singer from Burgundian Flanders become Europe’s most sought-after composer? Starting from a name scratched into the wall of the Sistine Chapel, Shirley Apthorp and Willem Bruls begin their search for Josquin across Europe, which in this first episode takes them from Rome to the places of the composer's childhood.

A starting point: Josquin's only known signature in the choirloft of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican (© Creative Commons)

Episode 2: Why Josquin?

Was Martin Luther Josquin’s PR agent? What can we learn from the notes on a naked bottom painted by Hieronymus Bosch? Did Josquin save polyphonic church music, or was he just a nasty little man? In the second episode of Master of the Notes, Shirley and Willem travel from Antwerp to Milan and Rome in Josquin’s footsteps in a bid to find a few answers on why he became “the Master of the Notes.” What exactly made him stand out from his contemporaries and earned him a reputation that would endure half a millennium?

Detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1500 (© Creative Commons)

Episode 3: In the Spider’s Web

Who the hell would work for a man who had incinerated his own relatives? It seems quite likely that Josquin actually did just that. For a long time, his whereabouts in the early years of his international career were more than unclear—in this episode, Shirley Apthorp and Willem Bruls try to retrace some of Josquin's first steps between Cambrai, Aix-en-Provence, and Paris.

The Sainte Chapelle in Paris: did young Josquin come through here in the early years of his career?

Episode 4: City of Dead Ends

In Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana you can find the “Portrait of a Musician,” Leonardo da Vinci’s only surviving portrait of a man. Could it have been a portrait of Josquin des Prez? They both worked at the court of the Sforza at the same time in the late 1480s—so Shirley and Willem set out for Milan to learn about Josquin’s time in the city. Is there more to find than dead ends?

Leonardo da Vinci’s (?) portrait of Josquin des Prez (??) in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana Milan (© Creative Commons)

Episode 5: All roads lead to...

...Rome, where else. Josquin moved to the Eternal City in the 1490s with his Milanese employer, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and joined the choir of the Sistine Chapel. What was life like as a papal singer? Was Josquin a pious servant in the service of the church or a diplomatically skilled top earner who knew how to have a good time?

The Eternal City in the early 16th century (© University Library Wrocław)

Episode 6: Miserere mei

Could Josquin have been a follower of Girolamo Savonarola? In his quest for religious purification, the radical Dominican friar seized control over Florence briefly in the late 1490s before he was imprisoned and burnt to death on the city’s main square. Might the manic reformer have struck a chord with the Flemish composer, perhaps as a stark contrast to the permissiveness of Rome under the Borgia Pope? Shirley and Willem unveil interesting ties between the two men.

Statue of Girolamo Savonarola in Ferrara

Episode 7: Dolphins in Venice

Shirley and Willem arrive in Venice at the height of the pandemic and enjoy the magic of a city entirely devoid of tourists with a mixture of awe and guilt. They came to La Serenissima to find about Ottaviano Petrucci, who invented a new way of music printing here at the turn of the 16th century—musicians today might know him from the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library. He also published the first-ever volume of music by just one composer—you guessed it: Josquin.

Gentile Bellini, Procession on the Piazza San Marco (1496, © Gallerie dell’Accademia Venice / Creative Commons)

Episode 8: 501 Years and Counting...

He had worked for kings, dukes, and popes and traveled Europe's most important courts. And yet at the end of his life, Josquin retired to a comfortable position in his hometown, Condé-sur-l’Escaut. In their final episode, Shirley and Willem return to where they set out on their journey in Josquin’s footsteps and reflect on his legacy and influence on composers from the past and present.

Entry on Josquin in Petrus Opmeer’s Opus chronographicum, 1611 (© Yale University Library)

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