About this work
Johannes Ockeghem composed a unique obituary ballade, Mort tu as navre, on the death of the elder Burgundian musician Binchois, incorporating Latin text excerpted from the requiem mass into a laudatory French chanson. And when Ockeghem, the "tresorier...et chief d'ouvre" of music himself, died in 1497, Josquin Desprez paid tribute to him in like manner, with Nymphes des bois.
The French text adapts a poem of deploration by Jehan Molinet, in which nymphs and goddesses are called to join the "skilled singers of all nations" in mourning for the loss of such a musician. Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon Pierre de la Rue, and Compère are called by name to weep great tears; Josquin's uniquely powerful music certainly gives justice to the sad occasion.
The very musical style of the piece betrays little of the musical character usually associated with Josquin. Moments of imitation and voice-painting (such as the repeating notes calling for "trenchant cries" and the dramatic shift toward flat notes for the text "treasurer of music," a reference perhaps both to Ockeghem's musical mastery and his official position of Treasurer of St. Martin in Tours), while present, are few and brief. Unrelenting long-note textures pervade all five voice parts, with few conclusive cadences to soften the momentum. In fact, such relentless drive, and the indistinct, overlapping, and dramatically low vocal registers, pay homage to the style of the earlier master (known for his bass voice, and for his low textured compositions). Also archaic is the long-note tenor cantus firmus, which he here quotes from the requiem mass. Ockeghem had adopted a similar device in his Binchois lament, but here Josquin transposes the borrowed chant melody into the most mournful Phrygian mode. All five voices finally rest on the refrain, the requiem prayer "Requiescat in pace. Amen."