The Kennedy Center

Gaspar von Weerbeke


Gaspar von Weerbeke, who was born in Oudenaarde, Flanders around 1445, was a major Franco-Flemish composer of sacred music. Records show that his career was underway by 1472-3, when he joined the Sforza court at Milan. He was subsequently sent by Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza to Flanders and Burgundy to obtain singers for the court choir. With the addition of these musicians, the choir became one of the most significant musical establishments in Italy, over which Weerbeker served as vice-abbate. In addition, Weerbeke, with the singers Compère and Johannes Martini, formed a type of musical workshop.
In 1480, Weerbeke moved to Rome, where he joined the papal choir of Sixtus IV (1471 – 84) and Innocent VIII (1488 – 92).  In addition, in 1483, he sang with the Roman Fraternita di Santo Spirito e S Maria in Saxia. Furthermore, in 1489, Weerbeke's hometown honored him as "sanckmeester van den herthoge van melanin." Then, in 1493, he again traveled to Florence, perhaps to recruit singers for the court.
In addition to the above, Weerbeke maintained a strong connection with the court choir of the Archduke of Austria and the Duke of Burgundy. From 1495 to 1498, he also was a canon at the church of St Donatian at Bruges. During this time, Weerbeke continued his work with the Sforza court, and he recruited singers for the Duke of Milan again in 1498. When Milan was defeated in 1499, Duke Ercole d'Este tried to hire Weerbeke for the court chapel at Ferrara. Weerbeke declined.
Instead, Weerbeke moved to Rome, where he became a papal singer from 1500 – 1509. Records reflect a gap in his service as a papal singer, but in 1514 he is again listed as a Cantor Capellae papalis. It is believed that he then moved to the north, as he was named as the next in succession in the dioceses of Cambrai and Tournai in 1515. Records also show that he was canonicus of S Maria ad Gradus in Mainz in 1517. Nothing more is documented about him, and it is presumed he died shortly after.
Weerbeke is known for both his liturgical and non-liturgical sacred music, the majority of which consists of masses and motets. Some of his most well-known masses include: Missa brevis, Missas ‘Princesse d'amourettes,' Missa ‘Ave regina caelorum, Missa ‘O Venus bant,' Missa ‘Et trop penser, Missa ‘Se mieulx ne vient,' and Missa brevis, according to Oxford Music Online. Weerbeke's motets, which use varied compositional techniques, include Ave mater omnium, Mater digna Dei, Dulcis amica Dei digna/Da pacem Domine and Stabat mater dolorosa/Vidi speciosam, Ave regina caelorum, Magnificat, and Stabat mater dolorosa/Vidi speciosam.
Weerbeke combined the Franco-Flemish polyphonic style of music and native Italian music. His unique compositions reflect the finer points of both musical genres.
Gaspar von Weerbeke