Johannes Ockeghem

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers

Ockeghem (with glasses) and his singers
Ockeghem (with glasses) and his singers

Johannes Ockeghem (also Jean de; surname Okeghem, Ogkegum, Okchem, Hocquegam, Ockegham; other variant spellings are also encountered) (c. 1410, Saint-Ghislain, Belgium February 6, 1497, Tours, France) was the leading composer of the second generation of the Franco-Flemish School. Ockeghem is often considered the most important composer between Dufay and Josquin des Prez, and was one of the most famous composers in Europe in the latter half of the 15th century.


The spelling of Ockeghem's name comes from a supposed autograph of his which survived as late as 1885, and as reported by E. Giraudet, a historian in Tours; the document has since been lost. In 15th century sources, the spelling "Okeghem" predominates.

The birthdate of Ockeghem is controversial, and dates as early as 1410, and as late as 1430 have been proposed. The earlier date is based on the possibility that he knew Binchois in Hainaut before the older composer moved from Mons to Lille in 1423, and when Ockeghem was still a choirboy: Ockeghem would have to have been younger than 15 at the time. This particular speculation derives from Ockeghem's reference, in the lament he wrote on the death of Binchois in 1460, to a Binchois chanson dated to that time. The comment by the poet Guillaume Crétin, in the lament he wrote on Ockeghem's death in 1497, "it was a great shame that a composer of his talents should die before 100 years old", is also often taken as evidence for the earlier date.

Recent research has shown that Ockeghem was born in the town of Saint-Ghislain; many older biographies state that he was either born in the town of his name or in the neighboring town of Dendermonde in East Flanders (now part of modern Belgium), part of the Duchy of Burgundy. Details of his early life are lacking. Like many composers in this period, he started his musical career as chorister, and the first record of his musical activity comes from the cathedral of Notre Dame in Antwerp, where he was employed in 1443 and 1444. Between 1446 and 1448 he served Charles, Duke of Bourbon, in Moulins (France). Around 1452 he moved to Paris where he served as maestro di cappella to the French court, as well as treasurer to the St. Martin cathedral in Tours. In addition to serving at the French court – both for Charles VII and Louis XI – he held posts at Notre Dame Cathedral and St. Benoît. He is known to have traveled to Spain in 1470, as part of a diplomatic mission, which was an attempt to arrange a marriage between Isabella of Castile and Charles, Duke of Guyenne (the brother of king Louis XI). After the death of Louis XI ( 1483), not much is known for certain about Ockeghem's whereabouts, though it is known that he went to Bruges and Tours, and he probably died in the latter town since he left a will there.

Ockeghem probably studied with Gilles Binchois, and at the very least was closely associated with him at the Burgundian court. Since Antoine Busnois wrote a motet in honour of Ockeghem sometime before 1467, it is probable that those two were acquainted as well; and writers of the time often link Dufay, Busnois and Ockeghem. Although Ockeghem's musical style differs considerably from that of the older generation, it is probable that he acquired his basic technique from them, and as such can be seen as a direct link from the Burgundian style to the next generation of Netherlanders, such as Obrecht and Josquin.

Music and influence

Very few of his works have survived: some 14 masses and a Requiem mass, 5 motets, a motet-chanson (a deploration on the death of Binchois), and 21 chansons. Thirteen of Ockeghem's masses are preserved in a late Fifteenth century Flemish manuscript known as the Chigi codex. His Missa pro Defunctis is the earliest surviving example of a polyphonic Requiem mass (a setting by Dufay, possibly earlier, has been lost). In addition to his small surviving output, some of the works attributed to him have been questioned: for example the amazing technical tour-de-force for 36 voices, Deo gratias is very likely by someone else, but this remains in dispute; and several of his chansons and motets, while anonymous in the sources, are attributed to him on stylistic grounds.

A strong influence on Josquin Des Prez, Ockeghem was famous throughout Europe for his expressive music and his technical mastery. His technical prowess is demonstrated most clearly in the astonishing Missa Prolationum, which consists entirely of mensuration canons, and the 'Missa cuiusvis', to be performed in different modes, but even these technique-oriented masterpieces demonstrate his insightful use of vocal ranges and uniquely expressive tonal language. Being a renowned bass singer himself, his use of wide-ranging and rhythmically active bass lines sets him apart from many of the other composers in the Netherlandish Schools.

To commemorate his death, Josquin Des Prez composed the motet La déploration de la mort de Johannes Ockeghem, a setting of the poem Nymphes des bois by Jean Molinet.



  1. Missa sine nomine
  2. Missa sine nomine (incomplete: only Kyrie, Gloria and Credo exist)
  3. Missa Au travail suis
  4. Missa Caput
  5. Missa cuiusvis toni
  6. Missa De plus en plus
  7. Missa Ecce ancilla Domini
  8. Missa Fors seulement (has not survived complete: only Kyrie, Gloria and Credo remain)
  9. Missa L'homme armé
  10. Missa Ma maistresse
  11. Missa Mi-mi (also known as the Missa quarti toni)
  12. Missa prolationum
  13. Missa quinti toni
  14. Missa pro defunctis (Requiem)


Marian antiphons

  1. Alma Redemptoris mater
  2. Ave Maria
  3. Salve regina


  1. Intemerata Dei mater (possibly written 1487)
  2. Ut heremita solus


  1. Mort tu as navré/Miserere (lamentation on the death of Gilles Binchois, probably written in 1460)


Three voices

  1. Aultre Venus estes
  2. Au travail suis (attrib: possibly by Barbingant)
  3. Baisiés moy dont fort
  4. D'un autre amer
  5. Fors seulement contre
  6. Fors seulement l'attente
  7. Il ne m'en chault plus
  8. La despourveue et la bannie
  9. L'autre d'antan
  10. Les desléaux ont la saison
  11. Ma bouche rit
  12. Ma maistresse
  13. Prenez sur moi
  14. Presque transi
  15. Quant de vous seul
  16. Se vostre cuer eslongne
  17. Tant fuz gentement resjouy
  18. Ung aultre l'a

Three or four voices

  1. J'en ay dueil

Four voices

  1. S'elle m'amera/Petite camusette


  • Flemish Masters, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-04413, performed by Zephyrus. Includes the Ockeghem Alma Redemptoris mater, the Obrecht Missa Sub tuum presidium, as well as motets by Willaert, Clemens non Papa, Des Prez, Mouton, and Gombert.

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