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Jacobus de Kerle
c.1531 - 1591
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J. de Kerle
Jacobus de Kerle -also: Jacobus van Kerle, Jacobus de Kirl- (ca.1531 - 07/01/1591), a Flemish composer, from Ypres. His last years in Prague were spent in the company of his compatriots Philippe de Monte and Luyton.
Source:Grove's dictionary of music and musicians
Jacobus de Kerle -also: Jacobus van Kerle, Jacobus de Kirl- (c.1531 - 07/01/1591), a Flemish composer, 5th Flemish School. De Kerle was born in Ypres and led a turbulent life.
He received his first musical training at St Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres. From 1550 we find de Kerle in Italy, at Orvieto Cathedral. At first he was an adult singer there and from 1555 he was magister capellae, Maestro di Capella and organist. From 1561/62 de Kerle was in Rome where he served up to 1565 the Archbishop of Augsburg, Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg. He was appointed Director of the Chapel of the Cardinal. His Preces speciales composed in 1562, may well be influenced the fathers of the Council of Trent not to abandon polyphony in church music.
In those years de Kerle showed his mastery of counterpoint in compositions like the Missa pro Defunctis, published in Augsburg in 1576 and the Missa Regina Coeli, 1562. There are various settings of the Requiem Mass by de Kerle, 1562 published in Venice and 1573/1576.
From August 1563 until May 1564 de kerle accompanied the Cardinal to Spain. Around 1564 de Kerle was a member of the Court Capella of Dillingen, this Capella was abandoned in 1565.
In 1565 he returned to his native town Ypres and was for a short time appointed director of music at St Martin’s Cathedral. In 1567 he was excommunicated and he went back to Rome, met up again Cardinal Otto Truchsess and was appointed vicar-choral and organist at Augsburg Cathedral up to 1575. Travelling on the way to Rome via Munich in June or July 1568 again, he composed by intervention of the Cardinal Truchsess von Waldburg the composition of a Festmotette on the occasion of the wedding of duke William V. of Bavaria with Renata of Lorraine (21 February until 9 March 1568). For the funeral services of cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldbrug who died on the 2nd of April 1573 in Rome, de Kerle composed a Requiem.
Further in Augsburg he developed himself as one of the outstanding composers of the fifth Flemish school. In June 1575 de Kerle left Augsburg, travelled to the Benedictine Abbey of Kempten and again in 1579 he returned to Flanders as Canon of Cambrai, but went back to Germany in 1582 as Choirmaster KapellMeister to the Elector Kurfürst of Cologne, Gebhard Truchsess von Waldbrug, nephew of the Cardinal. From September 1582 de Kerle worked as a member of the imperial Court chapel first in Vienna. Since 1583 he spent his last years – as Imperial court chaplain - in Prague in the company of his compatriots Philippe de Monte (1521-1603), Jacob Regnart (c.1540-1599), Mathias/Lambert de Sayve (1549-1614) and Charles Luyton (c.1556-1620). Furthermore he met Jacobus Gallus (1550-1591) in Prague, who stayed and served there since 1586 as organist and choirmaster at St John’s until his death in 1591.
In Vienna and Prague de Kerle became that famous Flemish composer, even today nearly unknown. Witnesses of his quality were both Lassus as de Monte and Rogier who performed his music.
His music is often and widely published (Plantins, Antwerp), (Nigrin, Prague), Italy (Gardano, Venice and Rome) and in Munich (Adam Berg), Nuremberg (Gerlach). Even in 1585 Plantin published in one format a large choir-book containing four Masses by de Kerle.
In 1585 de Kerle published his final collection of motets, dedicated to Pope Sixtus V.
His published music consists out of 8 volumes of Motets and Vesper music and four volumes of Masses (1562, 1582, 1583, 1585). Unfortunately not all his compositions have been preserved, for instance only one madrigal has survived.
Unpublished composition of de Kerle have been found in Altötting, Augsburg, Breslau, Brixen, Danzig, Dresden, Liegnitz, London, Munich, Regensburg, Stuttgart, Vienna, Zwickau.
Even the de Kerle’s music contains everything to conclude he is likewise a highpoint in the fifth Flemish School, a precious coping-stone of Renaissance imitative vocal Polyphony from the real Schola Flaminga!
Contributor:Wim Goossens
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1562
Musical form:mass
Text/libretto:Latin mass
This requiem, published in Venice, contains:
- Requiem aeternam
- Dies irae
- Libera me
Missa pro defunctis
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1573c
Musical form:mass
Text/libretto:Latin mass
In memory of:cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg
Label(s):HMC 901866 extracts
This nine-movement requiem mass is scored for alto, tenor, baritone and bass, and it (like all Renaissance requiems) is based on the corresponding melodies from the plainsong Mass for the Dead. Jacobus de Kerle (c.1532-1591) was a contemporary of Palestrina. The requiem has been composed for the funeral of cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, Bishop of Augsburg (26/02/1514 - 02/04/1573).
Author:Michael Harrison
The ten movements of the de Kerle Missa pro Defunctis are:
Introitus: Requiem aeternam. 2’12”
Kyrie Christe Kyrie 2’53”
Graduale: Si ambulem 2’46”
Sequentia: Dies irae. 12’14”
Offertorium: Domine Jesu Christe. 5’34”
Sanctus & Benedictus 2’45”
Agnus Dei I, II, III 2’37”
Communio: Lux aeterna. 2’42”
Responsorium: Libera me Domine. 7’38”

Jacobus de Kerle belongs to the fifth Netherlandish school/generation. This Missa pro Defunctis is written for four voices (ATTB) and with others de Kerle Masses this Missa pro Defunctis was printed in R. J. van Maldeghem’s Tresor Musical, from the latter part of the 19th century in Belgium. However van Maldegehm's transcription has some mistakes and his application of accidentals/ficta is not scholarly. There is a manuscript in the British Library. Jacobus de Kerle was not the first composer to use the sequence Dies Irae, Dies Illa in a polyphonic alternating setting that means polyphonic verses and plaint-chant alternated. Since 1570 the Dies Irae was added to the Mass of the Dead and to the Liber Usualis. As formulated before- see his life - de Kerle was involved in de Council of Trent and took knowledge of the developments there and the concluded implementation of the Dies Irae in the Office of the Dead. Among others Giovanni Mateo Asola (1528-1609) followed in 1575 the example of de Kerle. But in 1510 Antoine Brumel (c.1460-1520) already used the Sequence Dies Irae, Dies Illa in a polyphonic alternating setting so did Engarandus Juvenis in circa 1520 in his Missa pro Defunctis and in 1544 Cristobal de Morales (c.1500-1553) in his Missa pro Defunctis. Most of the Renaissance composer didn’t use the Dies Irae.
This masterpiece Missa pro Defunctis by the Kerle consists out of ten movements and starts as usual with the Introitus Requiem aeternam.
Introitus: Requieme aeternam: this setting is built round the well known plainchant which is located in the Superior line. After the short intro plainchant ‘Requiem’ by the Tenor part, Superior starts, followed by Altus, Tenor and Bassus. Flowing melodic lines larded with consonances and dissonances are part of the counterpoint and imitative lines. Special attention is asked for the short but impressive homophonic word-painting part (from bar 32) “Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem - And a vow shall be paid to thee in Jerusalem.” This movement counts 53 bars.
Kyrië: the Kyrië, Christe and Kyrië movements count 62 bars and are set in a modest imitative way, but not as rich as the real Proper‘s Pro defunctis plainchant of this Mass.
Graduale: as Gradual plainchant Jacobus de Kerle uses the text ‘Si Ambulem’ Before the reforms of the Council of Trent (1543-1563) there were diverse alternative texts for the Proper’s of the Mass of the Dead in use which differs per region. Nowadays we use ‘Requiem aeternam’. We already saw the use of this particular Gradual-text (Si Ambullem) among others by the Netherlandish composers like Ockeghem (c.1420-1497), Divitis (c.1473-c.1528), de Févin (1473-1512), Prioris (c.1460-c.1514), Richafort (1480-1547), Claudin Sermisy (c.1490-1562), Benedictus Appenzeller (c.1480-1558aft) and Lassus (1532-1594). This use depends on and vary per region. For instance and on the other hand the Spanish Polyphonists and Engarandus Juvenis (16th Century) use in the now known Gradual-text ‘Requiem aeternam’, page 1808 Liber Usualis nor did use the Gradual-text but other parts of the Proper’s for instance ‘Tractus sicut servus’ like Pierre de la Rue ( 1460-1518) did.
The ”Si Ambulem” starts with the normal plainchant-intro followed by Altus, Tenor, Bassus and Superior with imitative counterpoint. From a new groups of words ‘ Virga tua tuus’ on (bar 31), this part is set by de Kerle for three voices (TTB). The Si Abulem counts 61 bars.
Sequentia: the Sequence Dies Irae is the longest part in this Mass of the Dead and counts 239 bars. The sequentia Dies Irae : Liber Usualis page 1810 causes a lot of discussions whether or not this is a proper text belonging to the funeral Services. In fact the Dies Irae is now and sometimes in the 15th and 16th Century (see Antoine Brumel c.1460-c.1513 ) an excellent plainchant which melody is often used. So did de Kerle. De Kerle treats the twenty-one strophes of this Sequence in an alternatim way, also for alternating use. The Amen (in fact the 21st and last strophe) is set by de Kerle in a more homophonic but still in a flowing way (ATTB). The odd strophes are set by the Kerle in a flowing polyphonic way but in the even-numbered strophes de Kerle uses the plainchant. In the odd verses de Kerle uses a diversity of character of the short verses. De Kerle quotes the plainchant often in the superior. Moreover de Kerle uses three and four part settings in these short verses and even in the three part settings a diversity of the chosen voices (ATT and TTB). In all parts de Kerle uses skilfully varied imitative counterpoint. Offertorium: in the ‘offertorium Domine Jesu Christe’ included the ‘Secreta, Hostias’ de Kerle uses again a diversity of imitative counterpoint. In ‘in obscurum, in the darkness’ de Kerle uses a 3/2 measure (bars 46-51), so with all longer value to accentuate the wording darkness.
Sanctus, Benedictus & Agnus Dei: the Sanctus, Benedictus and the threefold Agnus Dei are set in a more modest polyphonic way like we saw in the Kyrië settings. De Kerle uses in the Hosanna-settings homophonic style with some ornamentation, so he did in the Benedictus and Agnus Dei. De Kerle uses here due to the circumstances a modest style. The ‘sempiternam’ is set in full balanced homophonic.
Communio: in the ‘Communio Lux Aeterna’ de Kerle quotes the plainchant setting clear in the upper voice in further using imitative counterpoint, but even quite clear for instance in all voices at the beginning of “cum sanctis tuis’ (bars 34-40) with Altus, Superior, Tenor and Bassus. Before that, the wording ‘Et lux perpetua’ are underlined in a homophonic way even with twice the highest note c4 on luceat, lightens (bars 27-28). This movement of this Mass of the Dead is a real moving part in which the skills of de Kerle excel.
Responsorium: The ‘Libera me Domine’ is the last and final movement of this Mass of the Dead by de Kerle. In fact this Respond is not a part of the Mass of the Dead as such. Indeed this Respond is sung at the beginning of the Absolutio pro defunctis, so after the Missa pro Defunctis, see the Liber Usualis page 1767 and is sung on the other hand in the Exsequiarum ordo - also before the Mass –. The whole Exsequarium ordo is published in the old Liber Usualis pages 1763 – 1771. The Libera Domine de Morte aeterna is a well known Respond. This Libera me (there are more (4) plain-chant variations known) is an old Responsorium out of the In Exsequiis part. The text de Kerle uses is the whole Roman text version published on pages 1767/68 of the old Liber Usualis. This moving motet Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna by de Kerle starts in each part with a long breve in between the start of the other voices. The use of that long breve is already seen in the Dies Irae see the verse ‘liber scriptus’ (fifth verse). From the first beginning in this responsorium de Kerle is building tension in choosing that long notes and long breve in between the parts, which starts in Tenor, followed by Bassus, Altus and Superior.
In fact this is a real long Respond (164 bars) nevertheless de Kerle uses different imitative points which appears at the beginning at each (6 new sentences) group of words. The ‘Tremens’ (ATT) and ‘Dies illa’ (TTB) are set for three different paired voices. Some pieces are set calm for instance ‘Libera me’ and ‘Requiem’ others ‘movendi sunt’ and ‘dum veneris’ are followed in each part by short and lively intervals. De Kerle uses in this movement imitative counterpoint. As always the last note of this master piece and Mass of the Dead ends hopefully in major in case in D.
Of course all the Missa pro Defunctis composed in the Renaissance period we saw are pieces written with deep devotion and painful hope, but in music terms they seems unbeatable most impressive and expressive.
This Missa pro defunctis composed in 1573 is in all a master piece by in his time famous Netherlander Jacobus de Kerle who died in Prague surrounded by his Netherlandish colleagues Philippe de Monte ( 1521-1603), Jacob Regnart (1540-1590) and Mathias de Sayve ( 1549-1614).
This MIssa pro defunctis is published in a volume : Giov. Giuseppe Fux. Messa Canonica a 4. voci. | Claudio Casciolini. - Messa di Requiem a 4. voci | Franiciscus Guerrero. Messa Beata Virgine a 4. voci. | Vincenzio Pellegrini. Messa pro Defunctis a 5. voci. | Gio. Agostino Perotti. - Messa da Requiem a 4. voci. | Jacobo Karle. Messa pro defunctis. a 4. voci (1848-1853). And in Missa pro Defunctis | quatuor vocum | Jacobi de Kerle 1848 Schreiber.
Author:Wim Goossens
Petrus Canisius (r)
before the Emperor
Ferdinand I (m) and
bishop Otto Cardinal
Truchsess von Wald-
burg (left).
Painting (1864) by
Cesare Fracassini