Jacob Obrecht (1457/8-1505) was a Netherlandish composer of the middle Renaissance period. Obrecht, along with Antoine Brumel, Heinrich Isaac, and Josquin des Prez belong to the third generation of the Franco-Flemish school of musicians. These composers from the Low countries were able to inherit new international languages and preserve medieval characteristics in their works as a result of cosmopolitanism, as in the case of Obrecht, posts at Ghent, Antwerp, Cambrai, Ferrera and Bruges. His compositions include 30 masses, 28 motets, Dutch chansons and instrumental pieces.

Background informationEdit

This mass was written between 1487 and 1488. The cantus firmus used in this mass is a secular melody from a chanson attributed to Antoine Busnois, who was attached to the church of St Sauveur in Bruges, at a time when Obrecht was also present.

The Mass falls under his mature style or compositions just before 1490, where he has reconceived the parameters of his style.

Link to the Video:

Link to the score:,_Jacob)


Gloria from Fortuna Desparata.

The tonal centre of the piece is in F, as indicated in measures 7,9, and 11. The entrance of the three voices at two-measure intervals of the same melody is seen at the opening. The voices carry on beyond the points of imitation with free counterpoint, which are interspersed with imitative passages and nonimatitive ones. 

The pulsation is in duple time, opening with regular half notes then quickening with synchopation. Obrecht is known for variety, and in this instance rhythmic variety. It may be observed that Obrecht has extracted the component notes and ordered them by note value, long to short, constructing new melodic material from the reordered sequences of notes.

Throughout the mass, Obrecht uses the end or start of a tenor statement as one of several steps to developing a musical idea. Known for his expansive approach, and Obrecht often chooses to create a cumulative effect with the cantus firmus in an imitation series and where the tenor entrance makes up a part of the ending. 

The counterpoint is smooth and consonant, where a forward drive in the voices are propelled by suspensions, passing and neighbor tones, and in the Gloria of the mass, a ending cadence adored by a brief run in parallel sixths.


In comparison to an earlier setting of the Mass Ordinary, the Missa de Sancto Donatio,_Jacob)

from his second period is, a more straightforward stylistic imitation of Ockeghem. The rhythmic drive established in the opening which is later varied and broken to short phrases in Fortuna Desparata is not present. The cadences in Missa de Sancto Donatio do not have emphasis as observed in those in Fortuna Desparata. To Obrecht, his structural ideal lies in the ending of a piece. Not at the point where performance discontinues, but rather that it established closure in terms of the work as a whole. In terms of canonical techniques on the cantus firmus, Retrogra and inversion is used in the Fortuna Desparata.

The Missa De Sancto Donatio has plainsongs added to the typical setting of the Mass Ordinary which praise the Saint Donatio after his death, perhaps lending to its more solemn and serious air compared to the more rhythmically active Fortuna Desparata


When reading about the Franco-Flemish composers of the Middle Renaissance era, I took an interest on which composers which preceeded des Prez particularly Obrecht because of the clarity in the structure of his contrapuntal writing. Obrecht is unique in the 3rd generation of the Franco-Flemish composers to me, because of his inexhaustible methods of manipulating the  cantus firmus. His approach is within a tonal idiom, based on vertical harmonies that can be heard. Obrecht is unmatched in his era in his innovative design (i.e progression from small- to large-scale elements) but is criticized for oppressing constraints posed by the rhetoric of the text which he sets his music. Nevertheless, Obrecht’s masses are his best contributions and it was interesting to note that the Missa Maria zart, takes more than an hour to perform, is one of longest setting of the Mass Ordinary.


Grout, Donald Jay, Peter J. Burkholder, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music, New York: W.W.Norton Company, 2010.

Jacob Obrecht: Missa de Sancto Donatiano: Gloria. Youtube Video, 8:37. Posted by “Micrologus2,” upload Dec 13, 2010.

Jacob Obrecht - Missa Fortuna Desperata - II Gloria. Youtube Video, 8:29. Posted by “wheatminer17,” uploaded June 8, 2012.

Obrecht - Missa Maria zart (ca. 1503-04) [HQ]. Youtube Video, 1:09:25. Posted by “lamanogaucha,” uploaded Dec 16, 2013.

Staines, Richards. "Obrecht at 500: Style and Structure in the "Missa Fortuna Desperata"." The Musical Time. no. 1891 (2005): 19-45. (accessed February 11, 2014).