Jacques Buus

Jacques Buus, Franco-Flemish composer and organist of the early Venetian School; during the late Renaissance musical era. Probably born around 1500, he died in Vienna in late August, 1565.

He worked at St Mark’s Basilica as second organist, from about 1541 to 1550; during the tenure of Adrian Willaert, before moving to Vienna.

He was one of the earliest composers of the “ricercar“, the predecessor to the fugue and a skilled composer of chansons. The latter were remarkably in a Protestant form, although these were not for performance in Catholic Venice.



Jacques Buus – LIFE

Jacques Buus (a.k.a. Jakob Buus, Jachet de Buus), was probably born in Ghent around 1500, though details of his early life are scanty; as is the case with most Renaissance composers. Possibly, he either studied or had his early career in France; maintaining some connections there, throughout his life.

In 1538, he published his first chansons in Lyon, by the printer Jacques Moderne.

Jacques Buus. Ricercare a quattro voceThree years later, he went to Venice and successfully auditioned for the post of second organist at St. Mark’s Basilica; working alongside the existing first organist, Frate Giovanni Armonio. This was during the tenure of Adrian Willaert, who built the musical forces at St. Mark’s into one of the most impressive in Europe; second only in quality to the papal chapel in Rome.

In 1543, he had dedicated a volume of “chansons” to the Calvinist Duchess of Ferrara and later in 1550; he also sent a book of Protestant “chansons spirituelles” to the Protestant Archduke Ferdinand II in Vienna.

Buus stayed at St. Mark’s until 1550, when he departed for France, possibly because he was unable to pay his debts or suggestions that he left because of his Protestant inclinations.

Late in 1550, he went to Vienna to work at the Habsburg court and he remained there for the rest of his life; ignoring entreaties from Venice to return. He died in late August, 1565.

Left: Jacques Buus: “Ricercari in quattro voce”, Published 1547.



Buus was influential in the development of the instrumental “ricercar“; he wrote the longest ever composed, one of which has no less than 98 points of imitation. Another, played at the typical “tactus” of the time; would take 15-20 minutes to play. They are elaborately contrapuntal, making use of all the standard devices of Franco-Flemish polyphony, including augmentation, diminution, inversion and so forth.

He also wrote sacred vocal music, including “motets” and “chansons spirituelles”, a specifically Protestant form,although these were not for performance in Catholic Venice.

Left and below left: CD recordings, featuring work by Jacques Buus.




Musical Note

Ricercar (also spelled ricercare), is a type of late Renaissance and mostly early Baroque instrumental composition. The term ricercar means to search out and many ricercars serve a preludial function to “search out” the key or mode of a following piece. A ricercar may explore the permutations of a given motif and in that regard may follow the piece used as illustration. The term is also used to designate an etude or study that explores a technical device in playing an instrument, or singing.

In its most common contemporary usage, it refers to an early kind of fugue, particularly one of a serious character in which the subject uses long note values. However, the term has a considerably more varied historical usage.

In the sixteenth century, the word ricercar could refer to several types of compositions; as terminology was flexible, or even lax then. Whether a composer called an instrumental piece a toccata, a canzona, a fantasia, or a ricercar; was clearly not a matter of strict taxonomy, but a rather arbitrary decision.

Yet ricercars fall into two general types:

  • A predominantly homophonic piece, with occasional runs and passagework, not unlike a toccata, found from the late fifteenth to the mid-sixteenth century; after which time this type of piece came to be called a toccata.
  • From the second half of the sixteenth century onward, a sectional work in which each section begins imitatively, usually in a variation form.

The second type of ricercar, the imitative, contrapuntal type, was to prove the more important historically and eventually developed into the fugue



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Adrian Willaert (c.1490-1562) 

Andrea Gabrieli (c.1532-1585)

Nicola Vicentino (1511-c.1576)

Cipriano de Rore (c.1515-1565)

Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590)

Baldassare Donato (1525–1603)

Annibale Padovano (1527–1575)

Costanzo Porta (c.1529-1601)

Claudio Merulo (1533–1604)

Gioseffo Guami (c.1540-1611)

Vincenzo Bellavere (d.1587)

Girolamo Diruta (c.1554-after 1610)

Girolamo Dalla Casa (d.1601)

Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1555-1612)

Giovanni Croce (c.1557-1609)

Giovanni Bassano (c.1558-1617)

Giulio Cesare Martinengo (c.1561-1613)

Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643)


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