The Kennedy Center

Johannes Ghiselin (Verbonnet)



Biography

Flemish composer Johannes Ghiselin (also known by his alias Verbonnet) flourished between 1491 and 1507; his dates of birth and death are unknown. His works include a set of masses published in 1503 and many motets and chansons (French songs). He served in both a ducal court in 14th century Ferrara, Italy and in the French court in the 15th century.
 
Information about Ghiselin's life is sketchy. He is first noted in 1491 at the court of Ercole I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. That year he was sent to France to engage two singers for the chapel and left Ferrara in 1492 at the latest.
 
From the fall of 1492 to the spring of 1493, he was a singer at the baptistery of St. Giovanni in Florence. By 1501, he seems to have become known as a singer to the King of France. Nevertheless, Ghiselin maintained his connection with the Ferrarese court for the next several years. In 1503, Ercole I hired well-known composer Josquin des Prez as choirmaster, and Ghiselin was ordered to accompany Josquin from Paris to Ferrara. That same year, the collection of Ghiselin's masses was published, including La belle se siet, De les armes, Narayge, Gratieuse, and Je nay dueul.
 
Ercole I died in 1505, and that year saw an outbreak of the plague. Josquin and Ghiselin apparently left to return to the Netherlands. The last surviving reference to Ghiselin is in 1507. The accounts for the next few years are missing, and when they resume in 1511, Ghiselin's name no longer appears. Given the small number of his compositions dated after 1505, it is likely he died young.
 
Ghiselin was described in 1517 as one of the most famous composers of his time.  Especially in the works of his middle years, he was given to displays of technical skill, as seen in the masses De les armes and Gratieuse. However, this inclination towards rational construction in his compositions is not just an intellectual exercise; it was a way to achieve formal structures of an exactness not to be realized in later masses of the century. The problem of form was very important in the large-scale masses of the second half of the 15th century, and like his contemporaries, Ghiselin worked on its solution.
 
Sources: Oxford Companion to Music
               Grove Music Online
 
Johannes Ghiselin