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Pierre de La Rue

Pierre de La Rue

Pierre de La Rue


Pierre de La Rue (c.1452 – 20 November 1518) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. A member of the same generation as Josquin Desprez, he ranks with Alexander Agricola, Antoine Brumel, Loyset Compère, Heinrich Isaac, Jacob Obrecht and Gaspar van Weerbeke as one of the most famous and influential exponents of the Netherlands polyphonic style in the decades around 1500. He was probably born at Tournai, in modern Belgium, and likely educated at the Notre-Dame Cathedral there, which had a substantial musical establishment. Read more on Last.fm
Pierre de La Rue (c.1452 – 20 November 1518) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. A member of the same generation as Josquin Desprez, he ranks with Alexander Agricola, Antoine Brumel, Loyset Compère, Heinrich Isaac, Jacob Obrecht and Gaspar van Weerbeke as one of the most famous and influential exponents of the Netherlands polyphonic style in the decades around 1500. He was probably born at Tournai, in modern Belgium, and likely educated at the Notre-Dame Cathedral there, which had a substantial musical establishment. While no records remain of his childhood, he was mentioned in the archives of the cathedral of Ste Gudule in Brussels in 1469-1470, as an adult singer. In 1471 he was in Ghent at the Jacobskerk.

Subsequently he was employed in Nieuwpoort (from 1472 to around 1477), Cologne (ending in 1489), and Cambrai (date unknown), as well as one location called "St Ode" (date and city not known). Previous biographies of La Rue place him in Siena, Italy between 1483 and 1485; however it has been determined that the La Rue in the records there was a different singer. Pierre de La Rue probably never went to Italy, making him one of the few prominent Franco-Flemish composers of this generation never to travel there. In 1492 he went to 's-Hertogenbosch Cathedral (in present-day Netherlands), but the next year he joined the chapel of Emperor Maxmilian. The remainder of his career was centered on Brussels, though he made at least two trips to Spain. On the second trip to Spain, in 1506, he was shipwrecked in the English Channel, and spent three months at the court of Henry VII of England. After two more years in Spain, in the service of Juana of Castile — Joanna the Mad — he returned to the Netherlands in 1508, probably because Juana had been forced out of power (her husband, Philip the Fair, had died of typhus in 1506).

Juana was inconsolable, unable to leave the corpse of her dead husband, and had become quite insane; why La Rue stayed as long as he did is not known, but it is not impossible that his dark, intensely expressive music was one of the few things that brought her solace. After returning north La Rue spent some time in Mechelen and at Kortrijk, where he died. An epitaph from his tomb in Kortrijk implies that he may have worked at the courts in France and Hungary as well, though no other evidence supports this. Then again, the location of "St Ode" has not been determined. On his trips to Spain he met many of the other Franco-Flemish composers who were working at the same time (for instance, Josquin, Isaac and Robert de Févin) and these meetings may have proved decisive on the development of his style. La Rue wrote masses, motets, Magnificats, settings of the Lamentations, and chansons, and overall showed more diversity than almost any of the other composers of his generation, except perhaps for Josquin. Some scholars have suggested that he only composed music for about the last 20 years of his life, mainly when he was in the imperial service; but it has proven difficult to date any of his works precisely, and they mostly conform to the stylistic trends prevalent around 1500. Stylistically, his works are more similar to Josquin than to any other composer working at the same time.

In fact, misattribution of doubtful works has gone both ways. Yet there are some unique features to La Rue's style. He had a liking for extreme low voice ranges, descending sometimes to C or even B flat below the bass staff; he employed more chromaticism than most of his contemporaries; and much of his work is rich in dissonance. He also broke up long, dense textures with passages for two voices only, something done also by Johannes Ockeghem and Josquin. In addition, he liked to write canons of considerable complexity. One of his masses for six voices, the Missa Ave sanctissima Maria, is a six-voice canon, a technically difficult feat reminiscent of some of the work of Ockeghem.

This is also the earliest six-voice mass known to exist. The second of his two masses based on the L'homme armé tune begins and ends with mensuration canons, yet another feat of contrapuntal virtuosity worth of Josquin or Ockeghem; indeed La Rue sometimes seemed to be in conscious competition with the more renowned Josquin. Most of his masses are of the cantus firmus type, though he occasionally wrote a parody mass. La Rue wrote one of the earliest polyphonic Requiem masses to survive, and it is one of his most famous works. Unlike later Requiems, it includes polyphonic settings only of the Introit, Kyrie, Tract, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus, and Communion (the Dies Irae, often the center of gravity in more recent Requiems, was a later addition). This mass, more than many others, emphasises the low registers of voices, and even the lowest voices themselves. La Rue's motets are mostly for four voices; they use pervasive imitation, though not usually at the outset (unlike the style of Josquin). His thirty chansons show a diversity of style, some being rather similar to the late Burgundian style (for example, as seen in Hayne van Ghizeghem or Gilles Binchois), and others using the more current imitative polyphonic style.

Since he never spent time in Italy, he never picked up the Italian frottola style which featured light, homophonic textures (which Josquin used so effectively in his popular El Grillo and Scaramella), and which so charmed the other members of his generation. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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