Josquin Des Prez (±1450 1521): Virgo salutiferi

In 1503 Duke Ercole I of Ferrara overruled his advisers and employed Josquin as maestro di cappella they’d advised him to hire Heinrich Isaac instead of Josquin because he was easier to get on with, was more companionable, far less inclined to make a fuss about composing on demand, and last but by no means least would cost only 120 ducats per annum while Josquin was demanding 200. Duke Ercole however wanted the crème de la crème, could afford it, and appointed Josquin. The wisdom of Josquin Signature 180x143this decision is clear from the quality of the music Josquin wrote during his all too brief tenure at Ferara – he left after a year fleeing an outbreak of the Black Death.

While in Ferrara, Josquin wrote some of his most famous and most exquisite compositions ranging from the austerely beautiful to Miserere to the utterly different Virgo salutiferi the subject of today’s posting. Virgo salutiferi is without doubt one of Josquin’s greatest motets, if you’re looking for the perfect example of Josquin’s greatness, his command of form and technique and his seemingly effortless production of music whose naturalness and ability to convey emotion belies the fact that it’s written  to an often very rigid form in conformity with a cantus firmus then this is such an exemplar.

It’s a graceful and spontaneous sounding piece of music written for five voices in which he has the high voices enter seemingly at random singing whichever motif is current in a somewhat elongated form. These interjections over the lower voices soar ever higher to considerable dramatic effect. If the function of the higher voices is to provide drama it’s the role of the lower ones to provide continuity which they do as they move between imitation, free counterpoint, and homorhythmic writing moving the motet along at a considerable pace as they do so. Josquin ends the motet in breath taking style with a final section in which all the voices sing the cantus firmus before the concluding unified Alleluia. Enjoy :-).


Josquin Des Prez (±1450 1521): Virgo salutiferi

Virgo salutiferi
Genitrix intacta Tonantis
Unicaque undosi
Stella benigna maris,
Quam rerum Pater,
Ut lapso succurreret orbi,
Nondum distincto iusserat esse chaos,
Jesseaeque sacro nasci
De sanguine gentis
Et matrem statuit
Virginitate frui.
O virgin, unblemished mother
Of the God1 of our salvation
And unique and kindly star
Of the billowy sea,
Whom the father of all things
Determined, to help his fallen world
Even before he had ordered it to be separated from chaos, Would be born from the holy blood
Of the line of Jesse
And be a mother
While still enjoying her virginity.
Tu potis et primae
Scelus expurgare parentis
Humanumque Deo
Conciliare genus.
Lacte tuo, qui te,
Qui cuncta elementa crearat,
Pavisti vilis
Culmine tecta casae
You are able too
To clear the crime of our first mother
And to reconcile the human
Race to god.
With your milk [you fed] him
Who created you and all the elements;
You struck down the roof
Of the vile building from its top.
Nunc, caeli regina,
Tuis pro gentibus ora,
Quosque tuus iuvit Filius,
Ipsa iuva, alleluia.
Now, queen of heaven,
Pray for your peoples,
Whom your Son has helped;
And help us yourself. Alleluia.

Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum,
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,


Hail Mary, full of grace,
God is with you,
Blessed are you among women.

Performers: Choir of New College Oxford directed by Edward Higginbottom

2 thoughts on “Josquin Des Prez (±1450 1521): Virgo salutiferi

  1. This is indeed a masterpiece, beautifully performed by New College Oxford and Maestro Higginbottom.
    A question comes to mind. Was it the custom for the Composer to write both the lyrics and the music? The poetry is also very beautiful.
    I like your new format (page layout) very much. It is easier to get around on.
    Thanks again,
    Bro. John

    • It’s a wonderful piece and a marvellous performance. It is rather beautiful poetry I agree – but to answer your question the composer was usually not the lyricist and even when they were their own lyrics tended to be a very small part of their output. That’s different for chansonniers of course but for formal music such as this the composer was generally setting somebody else’ text.

      Glad you like the new layout – I thought it was time for a change and this template is very clear.


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