Josquin Desprez - Planxit Autem David (ca. 1500)

Joey Roukens - And David Sang (2009)

 

In 2009, on commission for the Rubens Quartet, Joey Roukens created a special quartet transcription of the motet Planxit Autem David of Josquin Desprez. With this beautiful transcription, a burning desire of the quartet was fulfilled, namely to be able to perform a work from the period of the Flemish polyphonic composers, before the modern string quartet existed as a genre. Joey's setting of the motet is not a literal "translation"; his approach was to take the whole work apart and to "recompose" it in a contemporary style, suitable for string players.  Bowed instruments require an entirely different approach and musical language than the human voice.  Fragments were left out, and tempo and character markings were added.  Through the conscious use of unconventional sound techniques (flautando, sul tasto, tremolo, ponticello, pizzicato, natural and artificial harmonics), the work is reborn in a new, refreshing version. Joey decided therefore to give the work a new title: And David Sang.

 

Thanks to YouTube, here is a transcendant performance of the original:

 

 

The Latin text is derived from the Old Testament: Saul and his son Jonathan perished in battle. David learned this news from a messenger in his army camp, who delivered Saul's death blow upon request. Immediately David had the messenger killed, and all of his men mourned the loss of Saul and Jonathan.

 

David's Lament over Saul and Jonathan

 

 

 

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son:

 

(also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher: Josh. 10.13 )

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places:

how are the mightly fallen!

 

 

 

Tell it not in Gath,

        

publish it not in the streets of As'kelon;

lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,

lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.

 

 

Ye mountains of Gilbo'a,

        

let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you,

nor fields of offerings:

for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away,

the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.

 

From the blood of the slain,

        

from the fat of the mighty,

the bow of Jonathan turned not back,

and the sword of Saul returned not empty.

 

 

Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives,

        

and in their death they were not divided:

they were swifter than eagles,

they were stronger than lions.

 

 

Ye daughters of Israel,

        

weep over Saul,

who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights;

who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.

 

 

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

        

O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.

 

I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:

        

very pleasant hast thou been unto me:

thy love to me was wonderful,

passing the love of women.

 

How are the mighty fallen,

and the weapons of war perished!

 

 

2 Samuel 1:17-27

 

 

 

Below you can read some insight from the composer himself:

 

"And David Sang is a free transcription for string quartet from the motet Planxit autem David of the Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer Josquin Desprez (1450-1521), one of the most important composers from the late 15th/early 16th century. This four-voice motet, written around the year 1500, is a setting of the mourning of David upon the death of Saul and Jonathan.  To contemporary ears, the opening major chords sound more serene and peaceful rather than weeping and mournful. In his time, Josquin was well-respected throughout Europe and he held very prominent positions in  existing music circles, including the papal church and the court of Ercole d'Este in Ferrara. His work (particularly masses, motets and songs) became recognizable for their clarity, balance, attention to text expression and a perfect synthesis of the horizontal and vertical harmony.

 

 As earlier mentioned, And David Sang is a free transcription; in other words, I allowed myself the freedom to 'tweak' the notes of Josquin here and there. Nothing too extreme, but enough that is no longer seemed justifiable for me to give this transcription its original Latin title. My plan was on the one hand to keep the character and the notes of Josquin's music in tact, on the other hand to create an idiomatic string quartet that would make use of the technical possiblities of the medium, concerning dynamics, color and expression. I added dynamics, and with them a new dramatic transformation, here and there a single note or color effect like flautando or sul ponticello, sometimes even displacing an octave. Furthermore, I altered the structure of the work, in order to make a more compact form that would be more suitable for the string quartet genre.  

 

Why did I choose this particular motet? Because in this motet, Josquin tried to integrate several varying influences, something that I myself strive to do in my compositions. This motet contains imitative, polyphonic passages that are clearly modeled after the Franco-Flemish tradition in which Josquin was educated (he was a student of Johannes Ockeghem), alternating with more homogenous passages which contain an Italian influence, most likely stemming from Josquin's stay in Ferrara."

 

 

To give you an idea of how this metamorphosis came to be, we will show you two score pages, one of Josquin and one of Roukens. The changes are marked in red:

 

 

 

1: added variation in middle voices

2: rhythm changed

3: two notes become one

4: new voice- 1st violin is extra color in the melody

5: added octaves in viola and cello

6: cello plays low C, which is replaces the rest in the original

 

 

 

If interested, you can request a copy of the entire score of And David Sang by emailing .