Adrianus Petit Coclico on the Art of Singing as (Supposedly) Taught by Josquin Dez Prez (1552):
Updated: May 16, 2021
‘To teach the art of singing well and elegantly to a boy, I advise first that he choose a teacher who sings pleasantly and sweetly with a natural talent and produces pleasant music with charming clausulas far removed from the raspings, noises and other unsuitable things that bring the noblest music into the contempt of men. For each one who obtains such a teacher in youth becomes such a singer, which one can see among the Belgians, the people of Hainaut and the Gauls, who possess a singular gift in singing before all peoples. Most of the chief musicians have lived among them: Josquin Des Prez, Petrus de La Rue, Jacob Scampion and others who are to be admired and have made use of the sweetest elegances of clausulas. The surviving scent of these men is preserved up to the present in the schools of those regions and is imbibed by those desirous of music so long as students faithfully imitate teachers. Let the German boy take care thus to imitate a learned teacher while his voice is unbroken, because after the young voice breaks it is difficult or rare to attain the art of singing well, but acquired in youth it never passes into oblivion.
Since indeed there are very few in these regions who have experienced the sweet song of these outstanding older musicians, I made the decision to write out several examples, such as can be applied to all clausulas. So long as the syllables or words that are set to the notes remain silent.
But at first it is difficult to perform this with the throat, except the boy sweats and labours and even makes the effort for himself by any means, and continually daily repeats with himself up to the point that he has produced a familiarity and practice in this art, so that he does not even move his tongue, but performs correctly and ornately from the throat. Here is the first clausula that Josquin taught his students.’
‘De Elegantia, et ornatu, aut pronuntiatione in canendo.
Puero discere cupienti artem bene, et eleganter canendi, primum consulo, ut Praeceptorem eligat, qui naturali quodam instinctu laete ac suaviter canit, ac clausularum lenocinijs Musicam laetam reddit, procul semotis screationibus, clamoribus ac alijs ineptijs, nobilissimam Musicam in odium hominum inducentibus. Qualem enim quisque Praeceptorem nactus est in iuuentute, talis efficitur cantor, quod uidere licet in Belgicis, Hannoniensibus et Gallis, qui singulare quoddam donum in canendo prae alijs nationibus habent. Vixerunt apud hos Musicorum principes plurimi, Iosquinus de Pres, Petrus de La rue, Iacobus Scampion, et alij, qui admirandis, et suauissimis clausularum elegantijs usi sunt, horum uirorum relictus odor in scholis illarum regionum adhuc reseruatur, ac à Musices studiosis hauritur, dum discipuli Praeceptores fideliter imitantur. Adhibeat itaque curam Germanicus puer in imitando doctum Praeceptorem, dum uox ei puerilis est, quia mutata uoce puerili, difficile aut raro ad bene canendi artem perueniet, in iuuentute uero appraehensa nunquam tradet obliuioni.
Quandoquidem uero in his regionibus perpauci sunt, qui praecipuorum ueterum Musicorum in canendo suauitatem calleant, consultum duxi aliquot exempla adscribere, quae ad omnes clausulas possint applicari, dum silent syllabae, aut uerba quae notis supponuntur.
Sed arduum in primis est gutture ista pronunciare, nisi multum insudet ac laboret puer, ac uim quo dammodo sibi faciat, et subinde indies secum repetat usquequo notitiam et usum parauerit in hac arte, ut ne quidem linguam moueat, sed ex gutture recte et ornate pronunciet. Haec est prima clausula quam Iosquinus docuit suos.’
Adrianus Petit Coclico, Compendium Musices (Nuremberg: Joannis Montani & Ulrici Neuberi, 1552). Translation from Adrian Coclico, “Compendium Musices (1552) de Elegantia et Ornatu Aut Pronuntiatione in Canendi Translated by Sion M. Honea”, https://www.uco.edu/cfad/files/music/coclico-compendium.pdf.
It’s worth mentioning that, despite Coclico’s frequent claims that his teaching represents that of Josquin, there is no evidence outside of his own words that they ever met. Perhaps the most that can be said is that Coclico was a Belgian musician, born at the very end of the fifteenth century, who was attempting to import a supposedly Flemish style of singing to German singers.
The image below is a canon in four voices supplied by Coclico at the end of this section, which is given in both simple and ornamented (‘elegans’) form. The canon is accompanied by the text ‘Tendit ad artua virtus’ (‘Virtue strives for what is difficult’.) Each of the four entries is indicated by a signum congruentiae - bonus points to anyone who uploads a recording!