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JACOB OBRECHT

Summary | Biography | Discography | Photos | Audio/Video

jacob obrecht

Period

1457 - 1505

Genre

classical, componist, renaissance music

Jacob Obrecht

Jacob Obrecht is one of the most prominent composers of the late 15th century. Ludwig Finscher considers his work stylistically and aesthetically parallel to that of Josquin des Prez. Obrecht biographer Rob Wegman is convinced that Obrecht, who is clearly influenced by Johannes Ockeghem and Antoine Busnoys, significantly influenced Josquin.
Full biography

Instruments

componist

Mentioned in the biography of

1497   Johannes Ockeghem
1532   Gheerkin de Hondt

Biography Jacob Obrecht

Jacob Obrecht is one of the most prominent composers of the late 15th century. Ludwig Finscher considers his work stylistically and aesthetically parallel to that of Josquin des Prez. Obrecht biographer Rob Wegman is convinced that Obrecht, who is clearly influenced by Johannes Ockeghem and Antoine Busnoys, significantly influenced Josquin. Obrecht writes at least 30 Masses - including 'Je ne demande', 'Fortuna desperata', 'Malheur me bat' and 'Rose Playsante' - and several dozen motets and songs. Of all composers of the Low Countries around 1600, only Obrecht speaks Flemish as his mother tongue. Obrecht is unique in that Flemish songs form a significant part of his oeuvre. His career is marked by repeated changes and troubles, and in one case a less than honourable discharge from service. Unlike his colleagues, he works only for church authorities in Flanders and Brabant — aside from two brief periods at the court of the duke of Ferrara.

1457 - 1480

Jacob (Obrecht Ho(e)brecht, Obre(h)t, Obreth, (H) Obertus) is born in 1457 or 1458 in Ghent. Estimates of his year of birth are based on a dated portrait - which is discovered in 1987 and may be the work of Hans Memling - that lists his age. His father, Willem Obrecht, is since 1452 the city trumpeter in Ghent and - with interruptions - in the service of Burgundian court circles. Through this, Jacob Obrecht may have become acquainted with Antoine Busnoys early in life. His mother, Lijsbette Gheeraerts, dies in 1460, scarcely 20 years old. His father remarries in 1464 with Beatrijs Jacops. Both women come from well-to-do families with properties in the countryside. Obrecht, the only child from the marriages, inherits not only money and goods, but also the social position of his father in the trumpeters guild of St Andreas. He chooses the less secure life of a singer and composer.

1480 - 1484

Obrecht is a priest, singer and choirmaster at St Gertrudis Church in Bergen op Zoom. He apparently makes a name for himself as a composer in this period. On July 28, 1484, possibly on recommendations from Bergen op Zoom, he is appointed master of the boys’ choir at the cathedral in Cambrai (Kortrijk), a highly prestigious music centre.

1485

Obrecht’s work in Cambrai is not going well. In February, he apparently applies for a position at St Donatian Church in Bruges. Still, he remains for several months in Cambrai. On July 27, scabies breaks out among the boys’ choir there. Obrecht is reprimanded for negligence in supervising the cleanliness of clothing and bedcovers. On September 2, the cathedral authorities send him with 12 golden crowns (an enormous sum) to the annual market in Antwerp to buy new things for the boys. Underway, he stops in Bruges to discuss the position he has applied for. He is taken on, but must return to Cambrai to finish his work there. On October 21, eight days after he receives his appointment from Bruges, the authorities in Cambrai decide that he must resign, that his financial accounts must be audited before he leaves, and that he must submit approved accounts to the administration. Apparently, a problem has been discretely resolved.

1486 - 1491

In Bruges, Obrecht works not far from Antoine Busnoys. These are difficult years; war, revolution, inflation and famine sweep over Flemish cities. Obrecht must work hard. First, he he must care for the singers and in addition the liturgy at St Donatian requires he write at least two and later four Masses a year. Fortunately, he composes quickly and without difficulty. He learns from Busnoys’ methods, but soon adapts them with his own ideas. In August 1487, he gains leave to visit Ferrara, Italy, for six months on the invitation of Duke Ercole I. He stays two months longer and then returns indirectly to Bruges, because of war in Flanders, going first to Bergen op Zoom. The authorities at St Donatian repeatedly summon him to return to Bruges, but he arrives only in mid-August. His father dies on November 22, 1488, the Feast of St Caecilia. Settling the inheritance is complicated and takes several years. In 1490, a new conflict arises with the authorities at St Donatian, who decide to dismiss him without stating a reason. The relationship, however, returns to normal. Obrecht stays, and when he resigns in January 1491 of his own accord, he leaves on good terms. During this period, he develops his mature style. The depth of his mastery becomes clear in the Masses 'Rose playsante' and 'Fortuna desperata'. The tension between spontaneity and reasoned composition produces work with a maximum of musical energy. “Obrecht is at the peak of his creativity.” (Rob Wegman).

1492 - 1499

In June, Obrecht becomes choirmaster at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, where he remains until 1497. Antwerp is in a period of political stability and is flourishing economically. The post is hardly a promotion financially or in prestige for Obrecht, however his fame spreads further through Europe. His Masses are copied in Tyrol and Saxony, and are collected by Duke Ercole. In the summer of 1497, Obrecht returns to Bergen op Zoom, possibly attracted by the city’s economic and cultural success and by the better working conditions. For the first time, he is not responsible for the choirboys’ care, and his salary has been doubled. Still, he goes back to Bruges in December 1498 to serve again as deputy cantor, his former position, at St Donatian.

1500 - 1505

Obrecht becomes so ill in September that he asks the church authorities to release him from service. They comply, but continue to support him financially. He recovers and then in 1501 goes back to Antwerp, where he serves for two years as choirmaster. In October 1501, he receives in Innsbruck payment from Emperor Maximilian I. This is probably when he is traveling to Italy, where in September 1504 he follows Josquin des Prez as maestro di cappella at the court in Ferrara. Duke Ercole I dies in January 1505, and Obrecht is again without work. He unsuccessfully applies for a position in Mantua. In June or July, Jacob Obrecht dies of plague in Ferrara.

Discography Jacob Obrecht

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

Photos Jacob Obrecht

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