Composer: Josquin Desprez (1450-1521)

Piece: Agnus dei from Missa La sol fa re mi

Date: 1502

Form: Mass, setting of the Ordinary

Texture: Polyphonic

Characteristics: Imitative polyphony based on 5 note ostinato

Voices: 4 (Superius, Altus, Tenor, Bassus)

Josquin composed at least seventeen complete settings of the Mass. He used a variety of techniques, basing the music on pre-existent models,  both monophonic and
polyphonic. The La sol fa re mi Mass, written while he was in Italy, is for four voices. It is based on the five-note figure in the title, (A G F D E), which serves as a melodic ostinato that pervades the work. This five-note ostinato is heard again and again in all the movements of the Mass.

The Agnus Dei text is in three sections, as is Josquin's setting; in this work, the first and last sections are the same, giving the movement an A-B-A form. The outside sections are for four voices while the middle one is for two. The tenor presents the ostinato over and over again at various pitch levels. In our recording the basic motive is also heard on the sackbut (an early trombone).


Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,            Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world

miserere nobis                                               have mercy on us