Composer: Johannes Ockeghem (c1425-1495), s.a. (also aka. Jan, Jean, Jean, de Okeghem, dí Okeghem, Ockenheim
Okeghem, Ogkegum, Okchem, Hocquegam, Ockegham)
A _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ve Ma _ _ _ ri _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ _ a
gra _ ti _ a ple _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ na
Do mi nus _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ te _ _ _ _ _ _ _ cum
be ne _ di _ cta tu _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
In mu _ _ _ li _ _ e _ _ _ _ ri bus _ _ _
in _ mu _ li e ri _ bus _ _ _ _ _ _
et be ne _ _ di _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ tus
fru ctus ven tris tu _ _ i Je _ sus Chris _ _ _ _ _ tus _ _ _
A _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ men
Johannes Ockeghem (also
Jean de, Jan; surname Okeghem, Ogkegum, Okchem,
Hocquegam, Ockegham; other variant spellings are also
Saint-Ghislain, Belgium – February 6,
France) was the most famous composer of the
Franco-Flemish School in the last half of the 15th century, and is often
considered the most influential composer between
Josquin des Prez. In addition to being a renowned composer, he was
also an honored singer, choirmaster, and teacher.
The spelling of Ockeghem's name comes from a supposed autograph of his
which survived as late as 1885, and as reported by E. Giraudet, a historian
in Tours; the document has since been lost. In 15th century sources, the
spelling "Okeghem" predominates.
The birthdate of Ockeghem is unknown; dates as early as 1410, and as late
as 1430 have been proposed.
The earlier date is based on the possibility that he knew
Hainaut before the older composer moved from
Lille in 1423.
Ockeghem would have to have been younger than 15 at the time. This
particular speculation derives from Ockeghem's reference, in the lament he
wrote on the death of Binchois in 1460, to a chanson by Binchois dated to
In this lament Ockeghem not only honored the older composer by imitating his
style, but also revealed some useful biographical information about him.
The comment by the poet
Guillaume Crétin, in the lament he wrote on Ockeghem's death in 1497,
"it was a great shame that a composer of his talents should die before 100
years old", is also often taken as evidence for the earlier birthdate for
In 1993, documents dating from 1607 were found stating that "Jan
Hocquegam" was a native of
Saint-Ghislain in the
County of Hainaut, which was confirmed by references in 16th century
This suggests that, though he first appears in records in Flanders, he was a
native speaker of
Previously, most biographies surmised that he was born in
East Flanders, either in the town after which he was named (present-day
Okegem, from which his ancestors must have come) or in the neighboring
Dendermonde, where the surname Ockeghem occurred in the 14th and 15th
Bavay, now in
Nord department in France, was suggested as his birthplace as well.
Details of his early life are lacking. Like many composers in this
period, he started his musical career as a chorister, although the exact
location of his education is unknown:
Mons, a town
near Saint-Ghislain that had at least two churches with competent music
schools, has been suggested.
The first actual documented record of Ockeghem is from the
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe cathedral in
where he was employed in June 1443 as a "left-hand choir singer
("left-handers" sang composed music, "right-handers" sang chant). He
probably sang under the direction of
Johannes Pullois, whose employment also dates from that year.
This church was a distinguished establishment, and it was likely here that
Ockeghem became familiar with the English compositional style, which
influenced late 15th-century musical practice on the continent.
Between 1446 and 1448 Ockeghem served
Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, at his court in
Moulins, now in central France.
During this service he became the first among the singing chaplains to
appear in the court records
. Around 1452 he
moved to Paris
where he served as maestro di cappella to the French court, as well
as treasurer of the
Abbey of St. Martin-de-Tours
In addition to serving at the French court – both for
Charles VII and
– he held posts at
Notre Dame de Paris and at St. Benoît. He is known to have traveled to
1470, as part of a diplomatic mission for the King, which was a complex
affair attempting both to dissuade Spain from joining an alliance with
England and Burgundy against France, and to arrange a marriage between
Isabella I of Castile and Charles, Duke of Guyenne (the brother of king
After the death of Louis XI (1483), not much is known for certain about
Ockeghem's whereabouts, though it is known that he went to
Tours, and he probably died in the latter town since he left a will there.
An indication of the renown in which Ockeghem was held is the number of
laments written on his death in 1497; among the most famous of the musical
settings of these many poems is
Nymphes des bois by Josquin des Prez.
Ockeghem probably studied with
Gilles Binchois, and at least was closely associated with him at the
Burgundian court. Since
Antoine Busnois wrote a motet in honor of Ockeghem sometime before 1467,
it is probable that those two were acquainted as well; and writers of the
time often link Dufay, Busnois and Ockeghem. Although Ockeghem's musical
style differs considerably from that of the older generation, it is probable
that he acquired his basic technique from them, and as such can be seen as a
direct link from the Burgundian style to the next generation of
Netherlanders, such as
Obrecht and Josquin.
Music and influence
An illuminated opening from the
Chigi codex featuring the
of Ockeghem's Missa Ecce ancilla Domini
Ockeghem was not a prolific composer, given the length of his career and
extent of his reputation, and some of his work was lost. Many works formerly
attributed to Ockeghem are now presumed to be by other composers; Ockeghem's
total output of reliably attributed compositions, as with many of the most
famous composers of the time (such as Josquin), has shrunk with time.
Surviving reliably-attributed works include some 14
masses (including a
Requiem mass), an isolated Credo (Credo sine nomine), 5
motet-chanson (a deploration on the death of Binchois), and 21
Thirteen of Ockeghem's masses are preserved in the
codex, a Flemish manuscript ca. 1500.
His Missa pro Defunctis is the earliest surviving polyphonic Requiem
mass (a setting by Dufay, possibly earlier, has been lost). Some of his
works, alongside compositions by his contemporaries, are included in
Harmonice musices odhecaton (1501), the first collection of music to
be published using moveable type..
Dating Ockeghem's works is controversial, as there are almost no external
references allowing precise dating, excepting of course the death of
Binchois (1460) for which Ockeghem composed a motet-chanson. The Missa
Caput is almost certainly an early work, since it follows on an
anonymous English mass of the same title dated to the 1440s, and his late
masses may include the Missa Ma maistresse and Missa Fors
seulement, in view of both his innovative treatment of the cantus firmus,
and his tendency to write more and more homogeneous textures later in his
Ockeghem used the
cantus firmus technique in about half of his masses; the earliest of
these masses use head-motifs at the start of the individual movements, a
practice which was common around 1440 but which was archaic after around
Two of his masses, Missa Ma maistresse and Missa Fors seulement,
are based on chansons he wrote himself, and use more than one voice of the
chanson, foreshadowing the
parody mass techniques of the 16th century. In his remaining masses,
Missa cuiusvis toni, and
Missa prolationum, no borrowed material has been found, and the
works seem to have been freely composed.
Ockeghem would sometimes place borrowed material in the lowest voice,
such as in the Missa Caput, one of three masses written in the
mid-15th century based on that fragment of chant from the English
Other characteristics of Ockeghem's compositional technique include his
liking for varying the rhythmic shape of voices, so as to maintain their
A strong influence on
Josquin des Prez and the subsequent generation of Netherlanders,
Ockeghem was famous throughout Europe for his expressive music, although he
was equally renowned for his technical prowess.
Two of the most famous contrapuntal achievements of the 15th century include
Missa prolationum, which consists entirely of
mensuration canons, and the 'Missa cuiusvis toni', designed to be
performed in any of the different
modes, but even these technique-oriented masterpieces demonstrate
his insightful use of vocal ranges and uniquely expressive tonal language.
Being a renowned
bass singer himself, his use of wide-ranging and rhythmically active
bass lines sets him apart from many of the other composers in the
Fabrice Fitch: Johannes Ockeghem: Masses and Models. Paris,
Honoré Champion Éditeur, 1997. (ISBN
Jeffrey Dean: "Okeghem's valediction? The meaning of 'Intemerata Dei
mater'", in Johannes Ockeghem: Actes du XLe Colloque
international d'études humanistes. Éditions Klincksieck, 1998. (ISBN
Martin Picker: Johannes Ockeghem and Jacob Obrecht: A Guide to
Research. (Garland Composer Resource Manuals, 13.) New York: Garland
Publishing Co., 1988. (ISBN
Leeman Perkins: Music in the Age of the Renaissance. New York, W.W.
Norton & Co., 1999.
Howard M. Brown & Louise K. Stein: Music in the Renaissance, 2nd ed.
New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1996. Pp. 60–79.
Giulio Ongaro: Music of the Renaissance. Westport, Connecticut,
Greenwood Press, 2003. P.32.
Flemish Masters, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-04413, performed
Zephyrus. Includes the Ockeghem Alma Redemptoris mater, the
Obrecht Missa Sub tuum presidium, as well as motets by Willaert,
Clemens non Papa, Josquin, Mouton, and Gombert.
Angelus, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-00338, performed by
Zephyrus. Includes the Ockeghem Ave Maria ... benedicta tu, as
well as motets by Palestrina, Josquin, Victoria, Rore, Morales, Clemens
non Papa, Lassus, de Wert, and Andrea Gabrieli
Margarete - Maximilian I. Musik um 1500.
Capilla Flamenca with La Caccia, Schola Cantorum Cantate Domino Aalst,
Schola Gregoriana Lovaniensis. ORF Shop CD 265 (2 CDs). Contains a
recording of Petite camusette by J. Ockeghem.
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