The Kennedy Center

Jacobus Clemens non Papa


Jacobus Clemens non  Papa may have been born in Ypres, Flanders in approximately 1510, although some reports indicate that he may have been born in Middelburg, Zeeland.   The evidence is nothing if not contradictory.  He seems to have spent his early creative years in Paris and in the late 1530’s a collection of his chansons (songs) were published there.  After that, his musical career was centered in modern-day Belgium and Holland where he composed primarily church music.  This would put his musical career in the Renaissance period.
Nothing is known of his early life except that he was trained to be a priest. He returned to the Low Countries from Paris in 1540 and lived in Bruges until 1545.  During this period, he served as priest and choirmaster of the children of St. Donatien.  From 1545 until 1549, he worked in the private chapel of Phillippe De Croy, a principal general of Emperor Charles V.  He was also a singer and composer at the cathedrals in Antwerp and in Ypres, and finally in Dixmuide.  In a period of fifteen years, he apparently wrote a enormous amount of music comprising masses (including a requiem mass), two complete cycles of the Magnificat, a number of songs in French and Flemish and 4 books of little psalter songs.
Clemens wrote with an attention to detail typical of the Renaissance Netherlands composers. He composed great number of compositions that stand as outstanding examples of polyphony (multiple melodic voices) in the Renaissance period.
The nickname “non Papa” may have been given to the composer by his publisher as a joke, possibly to distinguish him from a contemporary poet named Jacobus Papa or from the deceased Pope Clement VII.  For whatever reason the nickname was given to him, the suffix to his name has remained.
Jacobus Clemens non Papa