Thomas Crecquillon

Thomas Crecquillon


• 1505 1557


Thomas Crecquillon was one of the leading northern European composers in the generation after Josquin Desprez. He was highly popular for his chansons, but his religious music is considered his most significant body of work. Very little is known with any certainty about his life. An official document of the court of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V dated 1540 lists him as "m-re de la chappelle," and his music's title pages also recite that he was "maître de chapelle." This basically means that he was responsible for selecting, performing, and composing music for religious services on behalf of the emperor.

However, another source, Nicolaus Mameranus, who in the years 1547 and 1548 wrote a Catalogus familiae of the Imperial establishment in Cologne, referred to him only as a singer and a composer and implied that Canis was maître de chapelle. Also in 1547 a petition from the court singers referred to Crecquillon as "chapelain de la haute messe."

Whether he was maître de la chapelle or if he perhaps resigned the title by the time of Mameranus, he was in sufficiently high favor to have received a series of benefices. In 1540 he received income from Termonde and Béthune. In 1550 he received the benefices of St. Pierre, Louvain, and was canon at St. Aubin, Namur, which he resigned in 1552 to become canon of Termonde. In 1555 he was also canon of Béthune. In 1557 his successor there was named, most likely meaning that he died before then. Since there was a plague in the area at the time, that is the most likely cause of his death.

The first known publications of his music -- and the only one we know to have occurred during his lifetime -- was by Susato in 1544. It was a single volume called Le tiers livre de chansons. He left over 200 chansons and more than 100 motets, as well as a dozen masses and two cycles of Lamentations. He was a master of polyphony. His contemporaries mention him as one of the great composers of the Netherlands or Flemish school between Josquin and Lassus.

He uses imitation as his most important musical technique and was one of the greatest masters of it. Even when he wrote parody masses, he chose polyphonic works as the basis. His music has admirable qualities of invention and grandeur. The motion of his parts is smooth, and Crecquillon was not nearly as given to use dissonance and chromaticism as some of his contemporaries.

Claudio Monteverdi, about a century later, described him as a composer of the "first style." This description stems from the debate that broke out in the Roman Catholic Church at mid-century over the primacy of music or words in the composition of Church music, and means that Crecquillon allows the words to be submerged in the musical texture. Some commentators conclude that, masterly as his music is, Crecquillon often chooses technique over individuality.