c. 1457 to 1458 - 1506
About Alexander Agricola
Agricola was the illegitimate son of Lijsbette Naps, a wealthy female merchant who lived in Ghent. He was probably born sometime in the late-1450s, and had a brother called Jan. A commemorative motet first published in 1538 gave his age as 60 at the time of his death in 1506, but that may be due to a medieval convention concerning the number 60.: 25 He may have received his musical training from the parish church of St Nicolas in Ghent, as his mother made a substantial donation to its musical establishment in 1467.: 380–381 In 1476 he is known to have been in Cambrai, in the Low Countries, where he was employed as a petit vicaire or singer from February to May.: 24
Most of his life he spent in posts in Italy, France and the Low Countries, though there are gaps where his activities are not known, and he seems to have left many of his posts without permission. Agricola was previously identified as the Alessandro d'Alemagna who served as a singer for Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan from 1471 to 1474, during the period when the Milanese chapel choir grew into one of the largest and most famous ensembles in Europe; Loyset Compère, Johannes Martini, Gaspar van Weerbeke, and several other composer-singers were also in Milan during those years. In 1474 Duke Galeazzo Maria wrote a letter of recommendation for a certain "Alexander de Alamania" to Lorenzo de' Medici.: 22 That identification has since been questioned because the Milanese documents do not record the surname of this Alessandro d'Alemagna, and Agricola is from Flanders, not Germany. The earliest unambiguous references to Agricola remain the documents at Cambrai.
For the long period from 1476 to 1491 nothing definite is known except that he spent part of the time in the French royal chapel, and he must have been building his reputation as a composer during this time, for he was much in demand in the 1490s, with France and Naples competing for his services. Between October 1st 1491 and June 1st 1492 Agricola served as part of the cathedral chapel in Florence.: 344 He was briefly in Naples in June of 1492, although King Ferrante had to relinquish him at the request of Charles VIII. Ferrante tried to reacquire Agricola from Charles VIII during 1493, at one point offering him a salary of 300 ducats a year. However Ferrante's enthusiasm cooled during the rest of 1493 as the situation in Italy deteriorated (war broke out in the next year) and he told Agricola to not come to Naples. Despite this, Agricola seemed to have returned to Naples (now ruled by Ferrante's son Alfonso) in 1494, staying for some time between February and March.
After this the paper trail for Agricola runs cold until the spring of 1500, when he took a position with Philip the Handsome, who was Duke of Burgundy and became King of Castile upon the death of his mother-in-law in 1504. Agricola accompanied Philip on his travels through his extensive lands, which included two trips to Spain in 1501 and 1506, passing through France during the first trip and England in the second. He served alongside fellow composer Pierre de la Rue, and was paid the same salary; he also received benefices in Gorinchem and Valenciennes: 31–35 Other composers present in Philip's chapel during this time includes Marbrianus de Orto and Antonius Divitis. By this time Agricola was one of the most esteemed composers in Europe. Petrucci brought out a collection of his masses in 1504, an honour accorded to few composers before him. His motet Si dedero survives in over thirty sources and both Obrecht and Divitis wrote masses based on it. Josquin paid homage to Agricola in his Missa Faisant regretz by borrowing the ostinato idea first used in his four voice Tout a par moy, which is in turn based on Frye's chanson. Works by Agricola, La Rue and Josquin make up the bulk of the choirbook B-Br MS 9126, which was prepared just before Philip's second trip to Spain.: 35
Agricola was still receiving his salary up until July 22nd of 1506, when the court was in Valladolid. However, his name is not included in the chapel payments in October which was authorised shortly after Philip's death.: 34–35 Agricola's own death on August 15th, 1506 is confirmed by an epitaph found in a 16th century manuscript in Brussels, it reads: Epitaph. Here lies one whom death ensnared: a Ghenter, formerly called Master Alexander Agricola, well spoken of in music. Death dispatched him on 15 August 1506: God grant that he be comforted and seated among the righteous. Amen.