(c. 1480 – c. 1547) – is one of the the most prominent polyphonist of the early XVI century.
In 1556 well-known Parisian music printer Le Roy et Ballard
published a posthumous volume devoted exclusively to the music by Richafort that comprised composer's 19 motets. Richafort's music was included in more than seventy anthologies between 1519 and 158 containing one or more of his works. It is even more impressive that more than two hundred manuscripts included copies of compositions by Richafort. Among them are few created on the command of the upperclass society. His motet Quem dicunt homines
was listed as one of the best compositions of the time and has been performed multiple times by the Sixtine Chapel Choir for at least 70 years. Until the end of the sixteenth century Richafort's compositions remained in the «top ten» list of composers. Divitis, Mouton, Lupus, Morales, Gombert, Ruffo, Pullauer and even Palestrina composed Masses based on models by Richafort. Surely the composer could not have dreamt of any greater homage.
After all this, one might assume that Richafort's life and career would be amply documented in contemporary archives. However, we are here faced with a paradox: the amplitude of the survival and transmission of his œuvre
is in inverse proportion to the known facts of his life. The following are some of the sparse details.
Jean Richafort was a French-speaking Netherlander and was born in 1480 in a place that was probably called Ricartsvorde. Nothing is known of his early life and education. In 1507 he became Maître de Chapelle
at the cathedral of Saint Rombaud in Mechlin [Fr. Malines]. What happened to him after this is not clear. He must at one time have been associated with the French court, and was employed there for some not lengthy time in the king's household or chapel. The Pope Leo when met among the royal court musicians in Bologne was impressed with his ability and granted dispensations to Richafort that allowed him to hold incompatible benefices.
In July 1542 Jean Richafort took on as maître de chapelle
of St Gilles in Bruges, a position he held through 1547. Since 1548 nothing more about Richafort is found in archives, he is presumed to have died about that time, probably in Bruges.
In the dedication to Livre des meslanges
(Paris, 1560), Pierre de Ronsard listed Richafort among the numerous «pupils» of Josquin des Prez. Direct reflections of Josquin's music appear in Richafort's motet Misereatur mei
, which emulates the tenor ostinato around which Josquin constructed his gigantic psalm setting Miserere mei
, and his Requiem mass, which uses as its structural scaffolding a canon on the Sarum chant Circumdederunt me
originally devised by Josquin for his six-voice chanson Nymphes nappés
The very summit of Richafort's art is undoubtedly his six-part Requiem
(tracks 1-7). The work is based on two cantus firmi
, both of which refer to Josquin Desprez. It was probably written on the death of Josquin (1521) and is in every respect a tribute to the latter's art. The 1rst cantus rmus
, which occurs in all the parts of the Requiem, is the Gregorian citation, «Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis, dolores inferni circumdederunt me». It is a citation that was also frequently used by Josquin Desprez. This cantus firmus
is used in canon only in two tenor parts. In the majestically constructed Graduale
Richafort makes additional use in the same tenor parts of the fragment «C'est douleur sans pareille» from Josquin's chanson «Faulte d'argent».
Around these two cantus firmi
Richafort contrives a counterpoint that excels in a balanced building up of meditative melodic lines that are sparingly but effectively coloured by musica acta
(the simultaneous use of more than one mode).