Feature: Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521) – Absalon, fili mi

Coat of arms of the Dukes of Gandía of the House of Borgia

Coat of arms of the Dukes of Gandía of the House of Borgia

Some musicologists chief among them Joshua Rifkin now believe that  Absalon fili mi should probably be attributed to Pierre de la Rue rather than Josquin, as things stand at the moment I don’t find their arguments convincing. I think it’s far more likely that Josquin wrote it in memory of Duke Juan Borgia the son of Pope Alexander VI, who was murdered in 1497. The text is a compilation of three Old Testament laments1 and the literary effect is to create a meditation upon David’s lament:

Having created the literary effect he wanted Josquin created its musical equivalent by opening the motet using lengthy melismas to give the effect of mourners bewailing Absalon’s death while the closing passages with their sense both of dread and of falling portray the descent into Hell. I doubt that anyone other than Josquin could have pulled this off within the limits of the 16th-century modal system.

I wrote about this motet back in July 2013 (see: Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): Absalon, fili mi | Saturday Chorale) featuring its performance by the excellent German ensemble The Dufay En­semble their performance is so good and so distinctive that I think it’s well worth your while comparing it with the performance by New York Polyphony. Enjoy :-)

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Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): Absalon, fili mi – New York Polyphony

Text & Translation Absalon, fili mi:

Absalon fili mi, quis det ut moriar pro te,
fili mi Absalon?
Non vivam ultra, sed descendam
in infernum plorans.

Absalom, my son, who will allow me to die
for you, my son Absalom?
I shall live no longer, but descend
weeping into hell.

Josquin Des Prez (±1450-1521): Absalon, fili mi – Dufay Ensemble

  1. Absalon fili mi,
    quis det ut moriar pro te, Absalon? (from Samuel)
    Non vivam ultra (from Job) ,
    sed descendam in infernum (from Psalm 54) plorans.

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