Johannes Ockeghem was a renowned composer during the Mid Renaissance period. He was a Franco-Flemish composer and spent most of his career working in the French Royal Court. He was not only a talented composer, but also a talented singer, which reflected in the beauty and lyricism of his work (Perkins). Ockeghem was particularly a bass vocalist, which perhaps influenced him to write more complex, moving bass parts. This contributed to more complex counterpoint.
Ockeghem, unique for his time, wrote several masses that were freely composed, or not based on previously existing melodies or text. "Missa Prolationum" is one of Ockeghem's freely composed masses. The work is fairly complex and "may well be the most extraordinary contrapunctal achievement of the 15th century" (Perkins). "Missa Prolationium" uses all of De Vitry's prolations, which could be somewhat related to a time signature in modern music. Fitting into the typical characteristics of the Middle Renaissance, the piece sounds smoother and has more preparation for "accidentals" or altered scale degrees. The chords, particularly the cadences are continuing the move away from open fifths and octaves to closer thirds and octaves. Though not quite as much as Josquin, Ockeghem begins to compose in a more vertical manner, paying more attention to harmony than his predecessors in the Ars Nova and Early Renaissance. The bass part is more complex, no longer using drone or simplistic chant. All the voices, as in the Early Renaissance continue to sing the same text rather than different text in each voice. Canonic imitation is seen throughout the work, another common feature emerging in the Middle Renaissance. A wider vocal range is also employed.
Comparing "Missa Prolationum" to Josquin de Prez's "Agnus Dei from Missa L'Homme," one finds several differences. Though both employ similar compositional techniques, Josquin de Prez enhances the compositional techniques by employing in more complex ways. Josquin's texture is even thicker than Ockeghem as he thinks even more vertically or harmonically when composing. There are departures from the modal tonal centers in the "Agnus Dei" but not in Ockeghem's work. This is one of the first times this happens. Josquin particularly uses the Phrygian mode rather than the more commonly used Lydian mode.
One thing that was briefly mentioned in class that I did not fully comprehend was the fact that Ockeghem was a vocalist. I did not realize how talented people actually considered him as a vocalist. It is interesting to dig deeper into his music and see how the vocal quality influences his compositions and part writing, particularly the bass line. I chose this piece because the Mass seems to be a prominent genre in this period, and I wanted to learn more about it.
"Johannes Ockeghem." YouTube video, 5:23. Posted by "ragazzotopo," upload April 1, 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWLsLAujZzI
Leeman L. Perkins. "Ockeghem, Jean de." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 8, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.proxy.lib.utk.edu:90/subscriber/article/grove/music/20248?q=ockeghem&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.
Dragan Plamenac (editor). Missa Prolationum. New York, New York: American Musicological Society, 1966. http://imslp.org/wiki/Missa_prolationum_(Ockeghem,_Johannes)