Josquin des Pres as teacher - what can we learn?
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    From Adrianus Petit Coclico, Compendium musices (Nuremberg, 1552; facs. edn. Kassel, 1954, sig. F2v).
    My teacher Josquin ... never gave a lecture on music or wrote a theoretical work, and yet he was able in a short time to form complete musicians, because he did not keep back his pupils with long and useless instructions but taught them the rules in a few words, through practical application in the course of singing. And as soon as he saw that his pupils were well grounded in singing, had a good enunciation and knew how to embellish melodies and fit the text to the music, then he taught them the perfect and imperfect intervals and the different methods of inventing counterpoints against plainsong. If he discovered, however, pupils with an ingenious mind and promising disposition, then he would teach these in a few words the rules of three-part and later of four-, five-, six-part, etc, writing, always providing them with examples to imitate. Josquin did not, however, consider all suited to learn composition; he judged that only those should be taught who were drawn to this delightful art by a special natural impulse.

    What does Josquin have to teach us today?

    There's a wonderful chapter in the Josquin Companion (Oxford UP, 2000) by John Milsom. Remarking on the "increasingly widening gulf" between 15th century perceptions of music and our own, he starts off by saying this:
    For a start, theory and practice were regarded as mutually dependent and inseparable. The pedagogical process began with singing individual melodic lines from single voice-parts, where today our first experience of fifteenth-century music is more likely to be through the passive act of listening to recordings or reading it from modern editions lad out in score. Josquin's world was a professional singer's world, inhabited by men whose voices were their livelihood, and whose intellectual comprehension of music -- its notation and its grammar -- went hand in hand with their first-hand practical involvement with it. We might also note that in Josquin's scheme of teaching, words and music are bonded together, not only through the singer's knowledge of how to 'fit the text to the music', but also by the stress that is laid upon 'good enunciation.' A singer of Josquin's day was more than a maker of beautiful sound. he was an orator, a projector of words, sense, and meaning. For twentieth-century singers and listeners whose religious experiences and literary interests may be very different from those of late fifteenth-century auditors, and whose ability to understand Latin or early modern French will in any case usually be limited, the balance easily tips against a concern with the rhetorical, devotional, and ritual function of texted music, and instead favours the purely aesthetic value of musical sound alone (432).
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