Feb 06

37. Johannes Ockeghem [365 Composers for 2013]


6th February – Johannes Ockeghem


Ockeghem (1410/1425 – February 6th 1497) is our composer for 6th February, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: Flemish
Lifespan: c. 75 years
Genre: Renaissance
Education: Unknown
Fame Ranking: 4

Ockeghem was a Flemish Renaissance composer. Very little is known about his early life, as records from the 15th century are few. Once Ockeghem had begun his career in music, however, his name begins to appear in court documents. New discoveries of Renaissance papers are still being made, and new  information related to Ockeghem came to light in the 1990’s, for example, but we still know precious little about him.

Ockeghem served in the court of Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, from 1446-1448. He then became famous throughout Europe. He was well-known for his polished compositions, which were also quite innovative for the time. For example, the bass lines (for voice) that he wrote were unusually creative, possibly because he sang with a bass voice himself and was keen for the bass parts to have their own interest.

As was normal during the Renaissance era, Ockeghem wrote mainly religious music, including at least 14 masses. Many of his masses use the “cantus firmus” technique, where the tenor voice carries the melody (often a well-known tune either from plainchant or a popular song) and the other voices have separate melodies woven around it, which together produce harmony. The word “tenor” dates back to this technique. It comes from the Latin “tenere”, which means “to hold”,

When Ockeghem died in 1497, his contemporary, Josquin des Prez, composed a lament to honour him. It was based on a poem entitled “Nymphes des Bois”. In fact, several laments were written on Ockeghem’s death, which we can use as evidence of the high esteem in which he was held in the musical world.


Listen to Ockeghem’s Kyrie (“Lord, have Mercy”) from the Mass “Missa Prolationum”


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Listen to more works by Ockenghem – click the box!





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