A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Obrecht, Jacob

1754004A Dictionary of Music and Musicians — Obrecht, JacobJames Robert Sterndale-Bennett

OBRECHT, Jacob, sometimes given Hobrecht, one of the great masters of the 15th century, born probably about the year 1440. In early life he was chapel-master at Utrecht, and Erasmus[1] learnt music from him, as a choir-boy in the cathedral, about the year 1474. He was also living some time in Florence, where Aaron met him in company with Josquin, Isaac, and Agricola, at the court of Lorenzo il Magnifico.

In 1491 Obrecht was elected chapel-master in Antwerp cathedral, already a great musical centre, with a fine choir of nearly 70 voices, exclusive of boys. Of the higher honours and emoluments he received there, of the visits paid him by foreign musicians, of his work in the revision of the cathedral music-books, and lastly of his poor health, M. Leon de Burbure has found ample evidence in the records of that church.[2]

Many of his works are preserved, and 8 masses were printed, the merits of which are fully discussed by Ambros.[3] The finest of these, 'Fortuna desperata,' has been published in modern notation (Amsterdam, 1870). The first volume of printed music in 1501 contained two secular pieces, and Petrucci included many more in his collection of the next few years. Eitner gives titles of about 30 printed chansons and motets still existing. Dr. Burney has scored some movements from the mass 'Si dedero,' in his note-books, and Forkel has given two examples in his history.

Baini speaks of MS. works in the Papal Chapel, and there is reason to think that among them is the mass written for the Bruges choir. This mass was so appreciated that the singers came to Antwerp in a body to thank the great master. Surely, to provoke such enthusiasm, there must be some power which we can hardly appreciate, hidden behind that 'clean and clear counterpoint' which Dr. Burney so coldly admires. To the mind of Erasmus, Obrecht ever remained 'nulli secundus.' He was greatly struck, as amateurs are to this day, by the wonderful rapidity with which a great musician could throw off his work. A certain mass of Obrecht's astonished the old music world, as the 'Don Juan' overture has done the new, in being the superhuman product of a single night's toil.

  1. Glarean, who was a pupil of Erasmus, mentions this in the 'Dodecachordon.'
  2. See article 'Obrecht' in Fétis's Biographie.
  3. Geschichte der Musik, iii. 180.