The music of Josquin Desprez is performed, recorded, and studied more than that of any other composer of the Renaissance. Although his numerous Masses and motets are now more than 500 years old, they have entered our modern musical museum of masterpieces, heard in concerts and on recordings as independent works of art. Through superlative craft and sublime beauty, this music transcends its time and place, and its original function as sacred music.
But just as a stunning Renaissance altarpiece becomes even more impressive and meaningful when restored to its original place in the sacred space it was made to adorn, so the sacred polyphony of the period gains in beauty and meaning when heard within the ritual framework it once enhanced. That ritual framework told sacred stories – of Christ, his mother, and the saints – primarily through plainsong and recitation. For special occasions, in institutions able to support highly trained singers, sacred polyphony added special lustre.
This recording aims to recapture a sense of the ceremonial context that would have surround-ed Josquin’s sacred polyphony in a place where he sang and composed and where his music continued in use long after he left. That ritual context is the Saturday Mass for the Blessed Virgin during Advent, a liturgy focused on the Annunciation story; that place is the Sistine Chapel in Rome.