ALEXANDER AGRICOLA (1446 - 1506)
Alexander Agricola belongs to the group of influential and important composers of the later fifteenth century who had their origins in the Low Countries. The place and date of his birth are conjectural but he is recorded as having died in the same year as his patron, King Philip of Castile, in 1506, at the age of sixty. In the same Epitaphion Alexandri Agricolae symphonistae regis Castiliae (‘Epitaph of Alexander Agricola, Musician of the King of Castile’) he is described as Belgian (quis Belgam hunc traxit?). He is said to have married in Florence in 1470 and records of the chapel of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza in Milan show that he served the court there as a singer and composer between 1471 and 1474, leaving in the latter year to seek a position with Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, with a recommendation from his patron in which he is referred to as Alessandro d’Allemagno. From Florence he seems to have returned with his family to his native country and the next contemporary reference to him is at Cambrai Cathedral in 1476 as a singer. Some have identified him with the Alexander who was organist in Utrecht in 1477, citing the epitaph for his ability as a player, clarus vocum manuumque (‘distinguished in voice and hand’), but this speculation has been largely dismissed. Later in the century he briefly served at the French court before returning to Italy. There he was employed at Florence Cathedral in late 1491 and early 1492. Efforts were made by the French court to bring about his return, with application to Piero de’ Medici in Florence followed by application to Ferrante I in Naples where Agricola had travelled. Negotiations with France took Agricola, by way of Mantua, back to the French court where it is presumed that he stayed at least until the death of King Charles VIII in 1498.
By 1500 he was in the service of Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and husband of Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. On the death of Isabella in 1504 they became King and Queen of Castile, Len and Granada and Agricola, who had accompanied his patron in journeys that had taken him to various parts of France and in 1501 to Spain, travelled there with him in 1505. As early as November 1500 he had been allowed money for a good horse for a journey to Luxemburg and he is described in a Burgundian court document as alexander ackerman, chantre de la chappelle domestique (Alexander Ackerman, i.e. Agricola, singer of the domestic chapel). He died in Valladolid in August 1506, reputedly of the plague.