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Johannes Ockeghem

Johannes Ockeghem

Biography

(born: c.1410; died: ?Tours, 6 Feb 1497).
Franco-Flemish composer. The earliest reference to him as a singer shows that he was a vicaire-chanteur at Notre Dame, Antwerp, for a year from 24 June 1443. His déploration on Binchois' death (1460) suggests a connection with the Burgundian ducal chapel where Busnois and Dufay worked. He entered the service of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, in Moulins in the mid-1440s and was a member of the chapel in 1446-8. In the year ending 30 September 1453 he is cited in the French court archives 'nouveau en 1451'. This service continued during Louis XI's reign, though he held other offices, including a canonry at Notre Dame, Paris (1463-70). In 1470 he visited Spain, in 1484 Bruges and Dammes. After Louis death he remained premier chapelain and was still on the payroll in 1488. He enjoyed an enviable personal and professional reputation.
His most imposing works are his mass settings. Several are based on pre-existing material, sacred or secular. One of the earliest is probably the Missa 'Caput' which states the cantus firmus in the lowest voice, but in other (probably later) works, such as the Missa 'De plus en plus', he varied the treatment of the cantus firmus, assimilating it increasingly to the rhythmic and melodic character of the other voices; his two incomplete mass cycles are based on late chansons of his own, and his polyphonic Requiem is the earliest known setting. Others of his masses, including the Missa prolationum and the Missa 'Mi-mi', are freely composed. The former is perhaps the most extraordinary contrapuntal achievement of the 15th century, with its simultaneous use of all four prolations in complex canonic combinations, while the other clearly shows his own characteristic style, with its variations in mensuration, texture and sonority. His motets display even greater inventiveness, combining homophonic textures, skilful cantus firmus treatments, sweeping melodic lines, energetic rhythmic figures and frequent imitation. Most of his chansons use traditional formes fixes and feature trebledominated textures, though some are canonic and occasionally anticipate early 16th-century chanson style. The level of contrapuntal skill and artistic excellence of his music laid a foundation for the achievements of Josquin's generation.
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