Josquin Des Prez (±1450 – 1521): Planxit autem David

Josquin Signature 180x143 This is one of those pieces of music whose purpose and context are a mystery to us. The text is a slightly modified version of the biblical verses (2 Samuel 1: 17-27) in which David laments Saul and Jonathan so there’s no discernible liturgical connection. If it’s not liturgical then, given the nature of the text and Josquin’s intense musical response to it some kind of political event, such as the death of a politically important male was most likely the cause of Josquin’s motet not least because Josquin binds the four movements together by regularly quoting the Gregorian reciting-tone for the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Structurally it’s also  a bit of a puzzle because while its in four movements those four movements must follow one after another to reflect the seamless nature of the text, so the structure is very unitary despite it being in four parts. None of these puzzles should distract us from the fact that it’s very beautiful. Enjoy :-).

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Josquin Des Prez (±1450 – 1521): Planxit autem David

Performers: The Binchois Consort

Text & Translation:

Planxit autem David planctu huiuscemodi
super Saul et Ionathan, filium eius. Considera, Israel,
pro his qui mortui sunt super excelsa tua vulnerati.
Incliti, Israel, super montes tuos interfecti sunt:
quomodo ceciderunt fortes in praelio?
Nolite annuntiare in Geth, neque annuntietis in conpetis Ascalonis:
ne forte laetentur filiae Philisthim, ne exultent filiae incircumcisorum.
Montes Gelboe, nec ros, nec pluviae veniant super vos,
neque sint agri primitiarum:
quia ibi abiectus est clypeus fortium et clypeus Saul,
quasi non esset unctus oleo.
A sanguine interfectorum, ab adipe fortium sagitta Ionathae
numquam rediit retrorsum, et gladius
Saul non est reversus inanis. Saul et Ionathas amabiles
et decori in vita sua, in morte quoque
non sunt divisi: aquilis velociores, leonibus fortiores.
Filiae Israel, super Saul flete,
qui vos vestiebat coccino in deliciis suis,
qui praebebat ornamenta aurea cultui vestro.
Quomodo ceciderunt fortes in praelio?
Ionathas in excelsis tuis occisus est.
Doleo super te, frater mi
Ionathan, decore nimis, et amabilis valde
super amorem mulierum.
Sicut mater amat unicum filium suum,
sic ego te diligebam. Quomodo ceciderunt robusti,
et perierunt arma bellica?

And David lamented with this lamentation
over Saul and over Jonathan his sons: ‘Think, O Israel, upon those who have died, wounded on your hills.
Your illustrious men, O Israel, were slain on your mountains: how are the mighty fallen in battle!
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not at the crossroads of Askelon,  lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
You mountains of Gilboa, let no dew nor rain come upon you, and may there be no fields of firstfruits,
for it was there that the shield of the mighty was thrown away and the shield of Saul, as if he had not been anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the strong the arrow of Jonathan never turned back,
and the sword of Saul never returned empty.
Saul and Jonathan were lovable and pleasant in their lives:
in death also they were not divided.
They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet for your pleasure
and put golden ornaments on your clothing.
How are the mighty fallen in battle!
Jonathan was slain on your mountains.
I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, beautiful beyond measure,
and lovable above the love of women.
As a mother loves her only son, so I have loved you.
How are the mighty fallen and weapons of war perished!’

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