Crecquillon, Thomas

Date of birth: c.1505
Date of death: 1557

Thomas Crecquilon (also written as Créquillon - c. 1505-1557) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. We do not know where he is born or where he died exactly, but it must have been in the French speaking part of the Low Countries, as the region is called that now spans The Netherlands, Belgium and the northern part of France. That he was French speaking can be deduced from the way the emphasis of the words in his music is obviously placed on the last syllable.
We know very little of his early life and education. He was a priest and a member of the chapel of Emperor Charles V. The records are contradictory about his being a maître de chapelle or just a singer. As far as we know he never left his home country to Italy or elsewhere in Europe like most of his fellow composers. In his days he was highly regarded by his colleagues and his music shows the transition of the pervading imitation of Josquin Desprez to the oncoming polyphonic style of Palestrina. Crecquillons music however does not show the variety of the texture for dramatic effects like Josquin’s did. It’s smoother and more consistent. He wrote twelve masses, over 100 motets and nearly 200 chansons. Several motets of his hand occur in the Leiden choirbooks as well. These choirbooks are the only six choirbooks with works for the Seven Liturgical Hours, that survived the iconoclastic fury that raged through the Netherlands in 1566. Anything that was of value was destroyed: statues, books, altars and even entire cloisters.
In his secular music, the chansons, he uses the pervading imitation and ample use of repetition, especially of the final phrase. This form provided some of the finest models for the later development of the canzona, the instrumental form which developed directly from the chanson.
Most of his works have been published by the printers Pierre Phalèse (Leuven) and Tielman Susato (Antwerp), who issued more works by Crecquillon than by any other composer, which is proof of his reputation in those days. His work is less performed in the present days than the music of his contemporaries, but looking at the intricacy and skillfully applied polyphony, he deserves better.
Crecquillon died most likely in 1557 during the massive outbreak of the plague in Béthune that year. That’s the place where he is supposed to have lived the last years of his life.
Cees Wagemakers, 2018