Jacob Clemens non Papa 1510(?) – 1555 (?)

Jacobus Clementi


Not much is known about Clemens’ early life. He may have been born in Zeeland, the southern tip of the Netherlands, or else in Belgium,  and he spent most of his life in Flanders. He worked in Bruges, s’-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch), probably in Leiden and Ypres, and possibly in Dordrecht. One of his best-known motets, Ego flos campi, was written for the Marian brotherhood of Den Bosch, its seven voices symbolising the mystical number associated with Mary and her seven joys and seven sorrows. Clemens formed a business relationship in about 1545 with the Antwerp composer and publisher Tielman Susato. The latter may have been responsible for the epithet ‘non Papa’, ‘not the Pope’, distinguishing Clemens from Pope Clement VII (as a joke?) in some publication – though the Pope had died in 1534. Whatever its origin, the epithet stuck.


Clemens’ death has been dated in 1555 from a motet of that date described as his ‘ultimum opus’, his last work; also from the dedication by the printer of his first book of Masses in 1556. A ‘déploration’ on his death by Jacobus Vaet was published in 1558.

While we know little of his life, there is a lot of his music: 15 Masses and 15 Magnificats, over 230 motets, more than 100 secular pieces, and – a first –polyphonic settings of all 150 of the psalms, in Dutch: the Souterliedekens, published by Susato in 1556-57, and probably Clemens’ best-known work in his lifetime. Gombert succeeded Clemens in one of his posts; and his music was known to Lassus – it was distributed widely in France, Germany, Spain and even England. Unlike several of his compatriot composers – Willaert, de Rore, Lassus … – Clemens did not travel to Italy and was seemingly untouched by foreign influences, representing very much a purely Flemish style of composition.