Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): Miserere mei

Josquin Signature 180x143Josquin’s setting of the Psalm Miserere mei, Deus, (Psalm 50, Psalm 51 in the vulgate)is associated with Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and other penitential occasions.  It’s a lenghty piece that’s one of his most impressive pieces of music and probably was first performed in 1504 during Josquin’s stay at the court of Ferrara.

Josquin’s settings tend to the spare and economical and his Miserere is no exception – it’s downright austere relying as it does on bare perfect intervals and sparing use of homophony. The effect of this ís to put the music strictly at the service of the text. The motet is plain, unadorned, ‘musically naked’ as Fuhrman 1 puts it and oh so very very beautiful.


Text, Translation & Score:  Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): Miserere mei

Miserere mei, Deus,
secundum magnam misericordiam tuam;
et secundum multitudinem
miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea,
et a peccato meo munda me.
Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco,
et peccatum meum contra me est semper.
Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci;
ut iustificeris in sermonibus tuis,
et vincas cum iudicaris.
Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum,
et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.
Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti;
incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi. Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Have mercy on me, God,
in accordance with your great mercy;
and in accordance with  the greatness of your pity, destroy my wrong-doing.
Furthermore, wash me of my wrong-doing
and cleanse me of my sin.
For I acknowledge my wrong-doing
and my sin continually stands against me.
I have sinned against you alone, and done wrong in your presence;
so that you might be justified in your words
and might conquer when you judge.
For behold, I was born into wrong-doing
and my mother conceived me amid sin.
For behold, you have esteemed the truth;
you have revealed to me the unknown secrets of your wisdom. You will anoint me, Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be clean; you will wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam,
et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis,
et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus,
et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.
Ne proiicias me a facie tua,
et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.
Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui,
et spiritu principali confirma me.
Docebo iniquos vias tuas,
et impii ad te convertentur.
Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae,
et exsultabit lingua mea iustitiam tuam.
You will give joy and happiness as I listen,
and bones that have been humbled will rejoice.
Turn your face from my sins,
and destroy all my wrong-doing.
Create a clean heart within me, God,
and renew an upright spirit within my limbs.
Do not throw me from your sight,
and do not take your holy spirit away from me
Return to me the joy of your salvation,
and strengthen me with your original spirit.
I shall teach wrong-doers your ways,
and the unholy shall be turned to you.
Free me from blood, God, God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing of your judgement.
Domine, labia mea aperies,
et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.
Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique;
holocaustis non delectaberis.
Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus;
cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.
Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion,
ut aedificentur muri Jerusalem.
Tunc acceptabis sacrificium iustitiae,
oblationes et holocausta;
tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.
Miserere mei, Deus.

Psalm 50 (Vulgate 51)

Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
For if you were to desire a sacrifice, I would give anything;
you would not be pleased with a burnt offering.
A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, God, you will not despise.
Act kindly, Lord, to Zion out of your goodwill,
so that the walls of Jerusalem may be built.
Then you will accept a sacrifice of justice,
libations, and burnt offerings;
then they will place bullocks on your altar.
Have mercy on me, God.

Score available from here: Miserere mei Deus (Josquin des Prez) – ChoralWiki

  1. For a good discussion of the simplicity of Josquin’s Miserere see: Fuhrmann, The Simplicity of Sublimity in Josquin’s Psalm-Motets  : Josquin and the Sublime. Proceedings of the International Josquin Symposium at Roosevelt Academy, Middelburg, 12–15 July 2009, hg. v. Albert Clement und Eric Jas, Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 49–71. – mfi

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