Jacob Barbireau

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Illustrated manuscript of the Missa Virgo parens Christi by Jacob Barbireau, copy from the early 16th century as part of a gift to Pope Leo X.

Jacob Barbireau (also Jacques B. , * around 1455 in Antwerp (?); † August 7, 1491 ibid) was a Franco-Flemish composer and singer of the early Renaissance .

Live and act

Jacob Barbireau's ancestors belonged to the leading upper class in his hometown. His parents were Jan Barbireau (1425/26 − after 1487) and Johanne, b. van Sint Pol († 1487). No information has been passed on about his childhood and adolescence. His year of birth results from two Antwerp documents from 1486 and 1487, in which he is referred to as "about 31 years old". In a later document from May 1512 a daughter of the composer, Jacomyne Barbireau (lifetime: after 1487 to after 1525) is mentioned. Since the earliest documents report him as an avid and educative student, it is believed that he received a solid university and musical training. When the famous humanist and scholar Rudolf Agricola came to Antwerp in the second half of 1487 , he was asked "by a number of canons and many distinguished young people" to give lectures for 100 kroner a year. Agricola was ready to do this if the city paid him for it; Barbireau was commissioned to negotiate this with the city of Antwerp. Agricola reminded Barbireau of this agreement in a letter from Groningen on March 27, 1482. Political crises caused delays and Agricola only received a letter from Barbireau seven months later with the news that the city leaders had given their consent. Agricola had meanwhile changed to the Heidelberg court of Elector Philip the Sincere of the Palatinate, with activity at the University of Heidelberg , and informed Barbireau about it. Barbireau had previously expressed a wish for Agricola to teach; Agricola complied with the request by writing “De formando studio” from 1484, a kind of guide for Barbireau's further studies. In return, Agricola asked Barbireau for compositions to be performed by the singers of the Palatinate court orchestra.

After Barbireau had been known as a musician and composer since the beginning of the 1480s and was associated with Antwerp's main church of Our Lady from an early age , he had been active here since 1482 at the latest. In the account books of the church he has been recorded as zangmeester (singing master) or as magister choralium (teacher of the choirboys) since 1487 , but probably held this position three years earlier. At that time the chapel consisted of twelve adult singers and eight choirboys. The singing master lived with the choirboys in the koraalhuis , and it was his job to teach them music, good behavior and knowledge of the church ritual, and to provide for their livelihood. Every day at seven in the morning there was mass to be sung and in the evening the laudae . The singing master also had the task of intoning the psalms and responsories during the service . Barbireau carried out this activity intermittently until his death.

In addition to his work in Antwerp, Barbireau also had closer contacts to the court of the later Emperor Maximilian I. After a stay in the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch in 1489, he traveled to Buda at the turn of the year 1489/90 and brought Queen Beatrix of Hungary (tenure 1475– 1490) a letter from Maximilian. In the letter of thanks from Queen Beatrix, dated January 8, 1490, Barbireau is referred to as "musicus prestantissimus" (highest ranking musician). Barbireau returned to Antwerp in 1490/91 and died there on August 7, 1491. His wife (marriage after 1487) and his daughter Jacomyne were provided as heirs in the will.

His successors as singing master at the Antwerp Church of Our Lady were initially represented by two or three other musicians and, from 1492, the composer Jacob Obrecht . Jodocus Beysselius (Besselius), a mutual friend of Barbireau and Rudolf Agricola, wrote three commemorative writings on Barbireau's death.


The most significant works by Barbireau are mass compositions , the most extensive being the five-part mass “Virgo parens Christi”, which is based on the opening part of the Marian responsory in the 6th mode . The cantus firmus of this mass coincides with the melody of the Corpus Christi sponsorship "Homo quidam fecit cenam magnam", which is why this text was also underlaid later in the mass and was given the title "De Venerabili Sacramento". The “Faulx perverse” mass is one of the few works that are written in the non- transposed 2nd mode. Typical for them is the very free treatment of the given melodies and a mostly full-voiced, rarely imitative movement. Barbireau shows particular mastery in the treatment of the cantus firmus in the "Kyrie paschale" (Easter Kyrie): It ranges from the long- bore performance of the Gregorian melody to the amalgamation within free melodies.

The secular works of Jacob Barbireau make greater use of the compositional style of the imitative movement. Two chanson melodies by Barbireau were used by Jacob Obrecht as cantus firmus in two of his masses. The song “Een vroylic wesen” was widely used, also in instrumental arrangement, and was used by Heinrich Isaac as a cantus firmus in his mass “Frölich wesen”, and was expanded to four voices by Jacob Obrecht.

The high esteem that Barbireau's music enjoyed for a long time after his death is also due to the fact that the masses “Virgo parens Christi” and “Faulx perverse” as well as the “Kyrie paschale” were included in the splendid manuscript on the occasion the wedding of Emperor Charles V (term of office 1519–1556) in 1526. Because of the time he lived and worked, and because of his musical style, Jacob Barbireau belongs to the 2nd generation of Franco-Flemish music.


The following works by Barbireau have survived:

  • Spiritual works
    • Missa "Virgo parens Christi" / Missa "De Venerabili Sacramento" with five voices
      Sources: Vienna, National Library Ms 1783 (no. 1), f. 1v-17r (Jacobus Barbyrianus); Rome, Bibl. Apostolica Vaticana, Ms Chigi CVIII 234 (nr. 20), f. 143v-153r (anonymous, without Agnus Dei III)
    • Missa “Faulx perverse” with four voices
      Sources: Vienna, National Library Ms. 11883 (no. 13) f. 174v-185 (Barberiaw); Vienna National Library Ms 1783 (no. 2), f. 17v-33r (Barbiraw)
    • Kyrie paschale to four voices
      Sources: Vienna, National Library Ms 1883 (no. 13), f. 167v-170r (Barbirianus); Vienna, National Library Ms 15497 (no. 1), f. 1v-5r (Barbireau); Jena, university library, choir book 22 (no. 86), f. 113v-116r (Barbiraw)
    • Motet “Osculetur me” to four parts
      Source: Brussels, Bibl. Royale, Ms 9126 (no. 20), f. 174v-177r, (Jac. B.)
  • Secular works
    • Chanson “Gracuuly et biaulx” with four voices
      Source: Rome, Bibl. Casantense, Ms. 2856 (no. 29), f. 32v-34r (B.)
    • Dutch song “Scon ran” to three voices
      Source: Rom, Bibl. Casantense, Ms. 2856 (no. 27), f. 30v-31r (Ja.Barbireau)
    • Dutch song “Een vroylic wesen” (Qu'en dictes vous, Se une fois) with three voices
      Sources: Copenhagen 1848-2 ° (Jacquies d'Anvers), Segovia (nr. 94) f. 166r (Jacobus B.); RISM 15389 (ascribed to JB in the Jena copy). St. Gallen 462 (with an additional alto by J. Obrecht), 463 (with an additional alto by J. Obrecht). RISM 15389 (ascribed to Obrecht in the Berlin copy). Greifswald 640-41 (only S, B; Isaac); Ulm, Cathedral Archives, Schermarsche Collection Ms. 237 a, b, c, d (anonymous), Tournai, Library De la Ville, Chansonnier de Tournai (no. 20) f. 26v.27r (anonymous)


  • "Der Pfoben swanz" (the peacock tail) a secular piece, probably a choral movement, here the version for Regal:

Audio file / audio sample The Pfoben swanz (Barbireau), 1.9 MB ? / i (the assignment, like the recording, comes from a concert program with early music from 1990)

Literature (selection)

  • J. du Saar: Het leven en de composities van Jacobus Barbireau , Utrecht 1946
  • RB Lenaerts: Dutch polyphonic music in the Montserrat library. In: Festschrift for J. Schmidt-Görg, edited by D. Weise, Bonn 1957, pages 196-201
  • Ch. W. Fox: Barbireau and Barbignant: a Review. In: Journal of the American Musicological Society No. 13, 1960, pp. 79-101
  • Ewald Kooiman: The Biography of Jacob Barbireau (1455−1491) Reviewed. In: Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor nederlandse muziekgeschiedenis No. 38, 1988, pages 36-58
  • JA Stellfeld: Het muziekhistorisch concern of the catalogi en inventarissen van het Plantinsch archief. In: Vlaamsch Jaarboek voor Muziekgeschiedenis No. 2–3, 1940
  • The same: Bronnen tot de geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Clavicimbel- en Orgelbouwers in de XVI e en XVII e eeuwen , Antwerp 1942
  • The same: Johannes Ruckers de jongere en de koninklijke kapel de Brussel. In: Festschrift for Ch. Van den Borren, edited by A. van den Linden and Suzanne Clercx-Lejeune, Antwerp 1945, page 283 and following
  • Frank Dobbins: The Chanson at Lyons in the Sixteenth Century , dissertation at Oxford University 1971

Web links


  1. ^ Thijm Alberdingk:  Barbireau, Jacques . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 2, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1875, p. 51.
  2. ^ Bernhard Meier:  Barbireau, Jacob. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present . Second edition, personal section, volume 2 (Bagatti - Bizet). Bärenreiter / Metzler, Kassel et al. 1999, ISBN 3-7618-1112-8  ( online edition , subscription required for full access)
  3. Marc Honegger, Günther Massenkeil (ed.): The great lexicon of music. Volume 1: A - Byzantine chant. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau a. a. 1978, ISBN 3-451-18051-0 .