Pierre de Manchicourt is among the innumerable Renaissance composers whose biographies are mostly unknown.
His significance is as the last great composer of the older style of Franco-Flemish polyphony before the more homophonic style favored by later composers gained ascendancy. What is known is that in 1525 he is listed as a choirboy at Arras Cathedral. Many of his movements as an adult are told in the bylines on the frontispieces of his own publications. He had become director of the choir at Tours Cathedral by 1539, and by 1545 he was master of the choirboys and maître de chapelle in Tournai. 1556 finds him back in Arras as a canon. Three years later Manchicourt was in Madrid, where he became maestro di cappella in the Flemish chapel of Philip II, a position he held until his death, sometime around 1564. Except for a comparatively small number of chansons and a handful of profane motets, his output was of sacred music. Although he seems to have composed masses right to the end of his life, his motets are his most significant works. Taken together, they show changes in motet composition over several decades, which means Manchicourt liked to keep well abreast of the musical times. They range from the full, rich textures of the earlier pieces through the later pieces, which show more concern with imitative polyphony and with melodic line as such. All are marked by a skillful and inspired use of unusual expressive devices -- such as false relations, dissonant cadences, and delayed cadences -- that enrich the music magnificently and project it well beyond the cold realms of mere technical expertise. That his reputation and renown aren't greater now seems to be mostly due to the preeminence of Josquin, whose importance was then still being digested by the culture to make way for the generation that included Lassus and his like.