(also Jean d’Okeghem, Johannes Ockeghem or Ockenheim). Born circa 1425 in Dendermonde, East Flanders; died 1495 in Tours. Netherlands composer. Most important representative of the Netherland school.
Okeghem studied at the maîtrise (choir school) of the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin in Antwerp, where he sang in the choir from 1433 to 1444. From 1446 to 1448 he was a chorister in the chapel of Charles, duc de Bourbon, in Moulins. In 1452 he became first chaplain of the French royal court, where he served for 43 years. Beginning in 1456 he was a royal councillor and treasurer of the Abbey of Saint-Martin at Tours. In 1470 he visited Spain, and in 1484 Flanders. He enjoyed recognition and esteem—Erasmus of Rotterdam was one of a number of authors who composed epitaphs upon his death.
Okeghem’s masses, motets, and other compositions, including graceful secular songs for three voices, were excellent examples of choral polyphony. A masterful contrapuntist (contemporaries considered him the best), he significantly enriched the technique of continuous melodic imitation, established four-part sonority in a cappella choral singing, and achieved perfection in the technique of free development of melodic lines.
Mathematician (astrologer) and philosopher-Neoplatonist, Okeghem constructed his compositions on the basis of mathematical calculations, inserting in his works hidden philosophical and religious symbolism. Among his most famous works are his riddle canons, in which the performers were given the task of calculating the intervals and moments of entry for parts not written out in the score, and his complex, masterfully composed choral compositions, including a 36-part canon (a combination of four nine-part canons) and the Missa cujusvis toni (“Mass of Various Tones”), which permits execution from any tone. His music enjoyed exceptional success in Germany after the Reformation.
REFERENCESGruber, R. Istoriia muzykal’noi kul’tury, vol. 1, part 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941. Pages 395–401.
Křenek, E. Johannes Ockeghem. New York, 1953.
Henze, M. Studien zu den Messenkom positionen J. Ockeghems. Berlin, 1968.
L. G. BERGER