Jacob Obrecht

Jacob Obrecht

born on 22/11/1450 in Gent, Flandern, Belgium

died in 1505 in Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Jacob Obrecht

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jacob Obrecht (1457/8[1] – late July 1505) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was the most famous composer of masses in Europe in the late 15th century, being eclipsed by only Josquin des Prez after his death.[2]


What little is known of Obrecht's origins and early childhood comes mostly from his motet Mille quingentis.[3] He was the only son[4] of Ghent city trumpeter Willem Obrecht and Lijsbette Gheeraerts.[5] His mother died in 1460 at the age of 20,[6] and his father, in 1488 in Ghent.[7]

Details of his early education are sparse,[8] but he likely learned to play the trumpet, like his father, and in so doing learned the art of counterpoint and improvisation over a cantus firmus.[9] There is a good chance he knew Antoine Busnois at the Burgundian court; at any rate he certainly knew his music, since his earliest mass shows close stylistic parallels with the elder composer.[10]

Scholar, composer and clergyman,[11] Obrecht seems to have had a succession of short appointments, two of which ended in less than ideal circumstances.[12] There is one interesting record of his compensating a shortfall in his accounts by donating choirbooks he had copied.[13] Throughout the period he was held in the highest respect both by his patrons and by the composers who were his peers.[14] Tinctoris, who was writing in Naples, singles him out in a short list of the master composers of the day[15]—all the more significant because he was only 25 at the time Tinctoris made his list, and on the other side of Europe.[16] Erasmus served as one of Obrecht's choirboys around the year 1476.[17]

While most of Obrecht's appointments were in Flanders in the Netherlands, he made at least two trips to Italy, once in 1487 at the invitation of Duke Ercole d'Este I of Ferrara,[18] and again in 1504.[19] Duke Ercole had heard Obrecht's music, which is known to have circulated in Italy between 1484 and 1487,[20] and said that he appreciated it above the music of all other contemporary composers;[21] consequently he invited Obrecht to Ferrara for six months in 1487.[22] In 1504 Obrecht once again went to Ferrara,[23] but on the death of the Duke at the beginning of the next year he became unemployed.[24] In what capacity he stayed in Ferrara is unknown, but he died in the outbreak of plague there just before 1 August 1505.[25]


Obrecht wrote mainly sacred music: masses and motets.[26] His oeuvre, though, did include some chansons.[27]

Combining elements of modern and archaic, Obrecht's style is multi-dimensional.[28] Perhaps more than those of the mature Josquin, the masses of Obrecht display a profound debt to the music of Johannes Ockeghem in the wide-arching melodies and long musical phrases that typify the music of the older master. Obrecht's style is, indeed, a fascinating example of the contrapuntal extravagance of the late 15th century.[29] He often used a cantus firmus technique for his masses:[30] sometimes he took his source material and divided it up into short phrases;[31] other times he used retrograde versions of complete melodies, or melodic fragments.[32] In one case he even extracted the component notes and ordered them by note value, long to short, constructing new melodic material from the reordered sequences of notes.[33] Clearly to Obrecht there could not be too much variety,[34] particularly true regarding the musically exploratory period of his early twenties.[35] He began to break free from conformity to formes fixes, especially in his chansons. Of the formes fixes, the rondeau retained its popularity longest.[36] However, he much preferred composing in the Mass genre where he possessed greater freedom.[37]

In his Missa Sub tuum presidium, the number of voice parts in the six movements increases from three in the Kyrie, to four in the Gloria, and so on, until there are seven voice parts in the Agnus Dei.[38] The title chant is clearly heard in the top voice throughout the work, and five additional Marian chants are found in movements other than the Kyrie.[39] His late four-voice mass, Missa Maria zart, tentatively dated to around 1504, is based on a devotional song popular in Tyrol, which he probably heard as he went through the region around 1503 to 1504.[40] Requiring more than an hour to perform, it is one of the longest polyphonic settings of the mass Ordinary ever written.[41]

Despite being contemporaries, Obrecht and Johannes Ockeghem (Obrecht's senior by some 30 years) differ significantly in musical style.[42] Obrecht does not share Ockeghem's fanciful treatment of the cantus firmus but chooses to quote it verbatim.[43] While the phrases in Ockeghem's music are ambiguously defined, those of Obrecht's music can be easily distinguished, though both composers favor wide-arching melodic structure.[44] Furthermore, Obrecht splices the cantus firmus melody with the intent of audibly reorganizing the motives; Ockeghem, on the other hand, exercises this treatment to a far lesser extent.[45]

Obrecht's procedures show a startling contrast to the works of the next generation as well (prefigured by some works of his contemporary Josquin), who favored an increasing simplicity of approach.[46] Though he was renowned in his time, Obrecht appears to have had little influence on subsequent generations: most likely he simply went out of fashion along with the other contrapuntal masters of his generation.[47]



  • Flemish Masters, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-04413, performed by Zephyrus. Includes the Obrecht Missa Sub tuum presidium, as well as motets by Willaert, Clemens non Papa, Ockeghem, Des Prez, Mouton, and Gombert.
  • Missa Maria zart, Gimell CDGIM 032, performed by the Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips.
  • Jacob Obrecht. Chansons, Songs, Motets, Capilla Flamenca and Piffaro, 2005 (Eufoda 1361)

See also

  • The Clerks


  • Atlas, Allan W. 1998. Renaissance Music. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Reese, Gustav, 1959. Music in the Renaissance. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Sparks, Edgar H. 1975. Cantus Firmus in Mass and Motet: 1420-1520. New York: Da Capo Press.
  • (Sparks, Edgar H. Obrecht, Jacob in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1980 ed.)
  • Sternfeld, F.W. 1973. Music from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. New York: Preager Publishers.
  • Wegman, Rob C. 1994. Born for the Muses: The Life and Masses of Jacob Obrecht. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Wegman, Rob C. Obrecht, Jacob, in New Grove Music Online Dictionary, accessed 20 November 2007.


  1. Rob C. Wegman. "Obrecht, Jacob." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/20231 (accessed November 22, 2010).
  2. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.477.
  3. Wegman 1994, p.21.
  4. Wegman 1994, p.39.
  5. Wegman 1994, p.36.
  6. Wegman 1994, p.39.
  7. Wegman 1994, p.147.
  8. Wegman 1994, p.21.
  9. Wegman 2007.
  10. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  11. Atlas 1998, p.295.
  12. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  13. Sparks, "Obrecht, Jacob, p.477.
  14. Atlas 1998, p.295.
  15. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  16. Atlas 1998, p.294.
  17. Reese 1959, p.107.
  18. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  19. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  20. Wegman 1994, p.81-2.
  21. Wegman 1994, p.139.
  22. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  23. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  24. Atlas 1998, p.295.
  25. Atlas 1998, p.295.
  26. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.478.
  27. Sternfeld 1973, p.198.
  28. Sternfeld 1973, p.196.
  29. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.477.
  30. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.482.
  31. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.478.
  32. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.478.
  33. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.478.
  34. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.478.
  35. Wegman 1994, p.87.
  36. Sternfeld 1973, p.198.
  37. Sternfeld 1973, p.197.
  38. Wegman 1994, p.338.
  39. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  40. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  41. Wegman, "Obrecht, Jacob".
  42. Sparks 1975, p.312.
  43. Sparks 1975, p.312.
  44. Sparks 1975, p.312.
  45. Sparks 1975, p.312-3.
  46. Sternfeld 1973, p.198-9.
  47. Sparks, "Jacob Obrecht", p.482.

External links

  • Obrecht biography and discography
  • Free access to high-resolution images of manuscripts containing works by this composer from Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music
  • Free scores by Jacob Obrecht in the Werner Icking Music Archive
  • MP3 files from Umeå Akademiska Kör
  • Free scores by Jacob Obrecht in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
This page was last modified 18.07.2012 21:03:20

This article uses material from the article Jacob Obrecht from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.