Inside the Music | Musical Homage | Renaissance | Classical
Cantus firmus technique, in which a pre-existent melody forms the basis of a new composition, lends itself well to musical homage, and it is likely that the selection of cantus firmi was often influenced by the dedicatee or patron. This might mean the choice of a favourite song, or a section of plainchant whose text held some personal meaning for the dedicatee. In the case of Josquin’s Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, the homage is absolutely clear, if somewhat technical. The Mass was dedicated to Ercole d’Este, duke of Ferrara, and its cantus firmus is made up of solmizations based on the syllables in the words of the title (re–ut–re–ut– re–fa–mi–re). Around this unpromising tune Josquin wove a beautiful Mass.
One of Josquin’s most poignant works is the motet-chanson Nymphes des bois (‘Wood Nymphs’), composed in memory of his friend Johannes Ockeghem (c. 1425–97). In this four-voice piece, the top three parts sing a French text lamenting Ockeghem’s death while the bottom line serves as a cantus firmus, borrowing text and music from his Requiem Mass: ‘Requiescat in pacem’ (‘Rest in Peace’).
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