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Born for the Muses: The Life and Masses of Jacob Obrecht (Oxford Monographs on Music) Paperback – January 2, 1997
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Top customer reviews
One could only have wanted treatment of Obrecht's motets and secular works, and hopefully Mr. Wegman will supply us with it in a forthcoming volume.
It's largely due to Wegman and Strohm that Obrecht is being reassessed and acclaimed as one of the most influential composer of his era, and one of the most individually magnificent, justly on a par with the slightly older Ockeghem and the slightly younger Josquin. Thirty masses composed by Obrecht, more than Ockeghem and Josquin combined, have survived in reasonably complete sources, many from Italian manuscripts and from the printings of Ottaviano Petrucci in Venice. All of them have been transcribed and published in modern notation in the NOE (New Obrecht Edition), printed in Utrecht, but of course such monument editions are ridiculously hard to come by except through university libraries. More significant for musical audiences is the question of recordings, and here the story is one of paucity. Of the 30 masses, only 13 are available in any kind of recorded performance. Of the 13 recordings, only 5 are good-to-excellent; the other 8 range from fair to awful.
*****De Sancto Donatiano performed by Cappella Pratensis
*****Malheur me bat performed by The Clerks' Group
*****Sub tuum praesidium performed by The Clerks' Group
****Maria Zart performed by The Tallis Scholars
****Caput performed by the Oxford Camerata
***Sicut spina rosam - ANS Chorus
***O lumen ecclesiae - ANS Chorus
***Pfauenschwanz - ANS Chorus
***Cela sans plus - ANS Chorus
***Si dedero - ANS Chorus
***De tous biens playne - ANS Chorus
**L'Homme armé - Capilla Fiduciana
And that's the news from the polders, where all the women wove, all the men sang, and all the children learned music.
Jacob Obrecht (1458 - 1505) was a contemporary of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) and an older contemporary of Raphael (1483 - 1520) and Michelangelo (1475 - 1564). As a music teacher Obrecht also taught the humanist thinker, Erasmus (1466 - 1536). Obrecht belongs to a generation of composers of the 1400s to early 1500's who Monteverdi later referred to as the Prima Prattica - the artists of the First Practice - who brought the extraordinarily rich polyphonic music of the Renaissance to its peak. Until recently the judgement handed down through the centuries of Josquin as the single outstanding composer of the Prima Prattica has been unquestioningly accepted. Martin Luther is repeatedly quoted as saying that "Josquin is a master of notes, which must express what he desires; on the other hand, other choral composers must do what the notes dictate." Fortunately, we are increasingly discovering the sheer depth and diversity displayed by Josquin's contemporaries, in a Golden Age of Western music whose contrapuntal complexities have never been equalled let alone surpassed. Indeed it would appear that the radical innovations traditionally attributed to Josquin should now be attributed to Obrecht.
I must say I enjoy everything that Rob Wegman writes. He has a highly engaging writing style that makes light work of academia. In other words this book is a highly entertaining read for anyone with even a passing interest in early music. The book chronicles Obrecht's life from his birth to his final demise with excellent background on the social milieu of the times to help paint a full a picture as practical of this man. The picture that emerges is remarkably vivid. So much so that his trials and tribulations seem to come to life as he struggles along jumping from one mediocre job to the next before eventually making his ultimate break landing a dream job in faraway Italy - only to have his hopes shattered a few months later with the death of his employer, who as a patron of the arts had long been an admirer of Obrecht's art. Bereft of a job, he probably performed his duties as a priest ministering to the sick to eek out a living at a time of a plague epidemic - only to succumb to it himself. The heartbreak of the misery of his final ending is almost palpable. Yet somehow in the course of it all he managed to attain a mastery of composition that had enormous repercussions on the course of the development of musical history, with its new emphasis on imitation of a sort you take for grant whenever you listen to Josquin or Bach. At the end of it all, it is a moving experience to discover such genius in a composer who had to die and suffer in silence for so long, for Obrecht is in Wegman's view as great a composer as there has ever been.
The whole book reads like one continual narrative intertwining Obrecht's biography with his musical development, always giving us the fullest perspective of the social conditions of the time - of wars and conflicts, hunger and plague epidemics. The results are often more gripping than many a novel - or film even - such is the quality of the research and above all the eloquence of the writing that Wegman presents this to us with.
Essential reading. I couldn't put it down and stayed up half the night reading it.