Stanford professor of music unravels generations-old authorship mystery

The 15th-century French composer and singer Josquin des Prez, or “Josquin,” as he is typically identified, obtained the Renaissance equivalent of rock star standing. In spite of his fame, several specifics of Josquin’s everyday living and job are hazy, and a major thriller of early new music is how numerous of the a number of hundred musical compositions attributed to Josquin were being really composed by him, according to Stanford musicologist Jesse Rodin.

Jesse Rodin (Picture credit rating: Mark Nye)

Rodin, affiliate professor of songs in the University of Humanities and Sciences, lately evaluated the authorship of the 346 parts of songs attributed to Josquin (1450–1521) making use of an tactic that blends scientific rigor with procedures from the arts and humanities. As component of this substantial endeavor, Rodin produced the Josquin Analysis Job, a searchable, on the internet databases of songs by Josquin and his contemporaries.

Rodin recognized a “core group” of musical pieces attributed to Josquin by responsible resources prior to evaluating Josquin’s musical design and style. Applying this main team as a reference, Rodin and his colleague Joshua Rifkin, a scholar and conductor at Boston University, assigned self-assurance ranges to the authorship of the remaining musical operates attributed to Josquin. Rodin summarized the undertaking in the Early Music paper The Josquin Canon at 500 and Rodin’s do the job on Josquin was showcased in The New Yorker.

“It’s all way too uncomplicated to strategy this or any other details set mechanically – to say that there are seven sources that set Josquin’s identify on this piece, so it will have to be his,” Rodin mentioned. “But what if these 7 resources all rely on an unreliable ‘parent’ supply and so have no impartial authority?”

At the coronary heart of the job “is the use of evidence, and how tricky it is in any self-discipline – humanities or sciences – to weigh evidence in a way that is neither rigid nor blind to context, circumstance, and record,” he claimed.

Josquin’s mysterious life and job

Rodin has focused considerably of his occupation to the analyze of 15th-century tunes, specially to the do the job of Josquin, who is extensively regarded as the to start with present day learn of multi-voice, polyphonic music.

Slice Circle in live performance. (Image credit score: Ovan Ameijde)

In addition to major the Josquin Study Project, Rodin directs Slice Circle, a vocal ensemble that performs tunes by Josquin and his contemporaries. As a scholar, Rodin has printed broadly in this subject, which includes the reserve Josquin’s Rome (Oxford University Press, 2012).

It is hard to know what new music Josquin wrote for several good reasons, Rodin described. Initially, Josquin’s compositions weren’t reliably labeled. Next, various composers imitated Josquin’s music. Last of all – and most importantly – Josquin grew to become internationally famed just as printing was revolutionizing the circulation of songs. Consequently, practically two-thirds of the audio bearing Josquin’s identify entered circulation only after his dying.

“Some misattributions appear to be to be the final result of wishful thinking: Then as now, people wanted to think he composed a given piece,” Rodin mentioned.

‘What’s in a title?’

Several attempts have been designed to provide clarity to Josquin’s compositions. The Dutch musicologist Albert Smijers was commissioned to edit Josquin’s works in the early 1900s – an work that took decades to total. Then, in the 1970s, an worldwide workforce of students formed the New Josquin Edition committee: Over three many years (1986–2017), they posted 30 volumes of music attributed to Josquin.

But just as the task was receiving likely, Rifkin known as the fundamental methodology into dilemma, suggesting that the committee had unsuccessful to undertake adequately rigorous standards for assessing the reliability of the sources. Rifkin proposed that scholars must think about works by Josquin “guilty till established innocent” – that is, not by Josquin until eventually established otherwise.

At the time, Rifkin’s proposal was thought of intense. For hundreds of years, folks crafting about early music have assumed Josquin composed most of the pieces attributed to him. Also, the timing was not excellent – the New Josquin Edition was about to publish its very first quantity.

“Understandably, some scholars and music-enthusiasts experience robbed when a preferred piece is dropped from the Josquin canon,” Rodin claimed. “When the authorship of a beloved piece was identified as into dilemma, the musical neighborhood would reel – as if the new music could no for a longer period be superior if it was no more time Josquin’s.”

The Josquin Exploration Venture

Though enhancing a quantity of L’homme armé masses for the New Josquin Version (2014), Rodin commenced doing work with Rifkin to examine how a guilty-until-proven-harmless strategy may well be utilized to Josquin’s new music.

The Kyrie from the Missa de beata virgine by Josquin des Prez in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ms. Cappella Sistina 45, folios 1v-2r. (Image credit rating: Wikimedia)

“Our goal isn’t to dismiss the wide physique of scholarship and well known information about Josquin,” Rodin stated, “We ask: ‘What does the most dependable evidence notify us? And how do we handle that proof, and regulate uncertainty, with no permitting untrustworthy details in the door or falling prey to wishful considering or round reasoning?’ ”

In 2010, Rodin developed the Josquin Research Job in partnership with Craig Sapp, adjunct professor at Stanford’s Centre for Computer system Assisted Investigate in the Humanities. Putting new electronic instruments to use, they commenced refining our comprehending of Josquin’s musical design and style, or as Rodin puts it, what “Josquin tends to do and not do” in his tunes, by analyzing items for which the resource proof on your own would make Josquin’s authorship pretty much specified. This core group of 54 performs was critical simply because it served as a reference that aided the team acknowledge other music by Josquin.

The short sacred piece Domine, non secundum peccata is portion of the core team. It was copied into a Sistine Chapel choir e-book all around 1490 whilst Josquin was singing and composing new music there. It is attributed to “Judocus de pratis,” the Latinized form of Josquin des Prez, on the 1st web site of the Cappella Sistina 35 on folio 5v.

“If this scribe did not know what was Josquin, pretty much nobody did. So on the testimony of just one manuscript, we can experience really harmless about the work’s authorship,” Rodin wrote in Early Tunes.

Having a comparative method to source- and design-based mostly evidence, Rodin and Rifkin assigned the remaining 292 items not in the core team to a person of a few types: provisionally attributable (49 will work) “problematic, ranging from ‘fat chance’ to ‘could be’ – but are there genuinely very good factors to consider it is?” (35 functions) and “the rest” (205, as well as 3 lost compositions). In all, Rodin and Rifkin imagine Josquin composed about 103 of the 346 is effective attributed to him – as in contrast to 143 compositions considered safe by the New Josquin Edition.

Days prior to Aug. 27, 2021 – the 500th anniversary of Josquin’s loss of life – the staff finished monitoring down, transcribing, and uploading to the Josquin Study Project’s absolutely searchable, on the web collection each and every surviving notice attributed to Josquin. Rodin marked the anniversary and the project’s completion with a series of performances by Cut Circle that were recorded in Florence and Arezzo, Italy, cities shut to wherever Josquin worked.

Rodin and Sapp have been building new analytical instruments and increasing the Josquin Study Venture databases to involve music by other composers.

Rodin’s forthcoming monograph explores challenges of musical form in pieces by Josquin and his contemporaries. He is also co-modifying a book, provisionally titled Josquin: A New Tactic, that functions essays by prominent scholars creating about Josquin for the initial time. “It’s exciting to finally be in a position to probe Josquin’s is effective and review his design to audio by other composers with out worrying the conclusions will be clouded by problems of attribution,” Rodin said.

“Josquin’s compositions improved the system of music heritage in ways that proceed to resonate today,” he added. “His songs is not played on American radio with the same frequency as that of Liszt or Lizzo, but that does not necessarily mean it does not matter.”

This investigate was supported by funding from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Realized Societies, and Stanford College, with in-kind aid from the Middle for Laptop or computer Assisted Exploration in the Humanities (CCARH).