As is common with composers of the period, very little is known of his early life, not even his place of birth. He may have been born in present-day Germany, since he is referred to in some Italian documents as d'Allemagno or d'Allemagna.
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. He was a singer for Duke 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, Josquin Desprez, Gaspar van Weerbeke and several other composer-singers were also in Milan during those years.
In 1474 Duke Sforza wrote a letter of recommendation for him to Lorenzo de' Medici, and Agricola accordingly went to Florence. In 1476 he is known to have been in Cambrai, in the Low Countries, where he probably was employed as a singer.
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.
In 1500 he took a position with Philip the Handsome, who was Duke of Burgundy and King of Castile. He apparently accompanied the Duke on his travels through his empire; by this time he was one of the most esteemed composers in Europe. He was in Valladolid, Spain, in August 1506, where he died during an outbreak of the plague.
Agricola's style is related to that of Johannes Ockeghem, especially early in his career, and towards the end of his life he was writing using the pervasive imitation characteristic of Josquin Desprez.
While few of his works can be dated precisely, he does use many of the non-imitative, complex, rhythmically diverse contrapuntal procedures more often associated with Ockeghem. Unlike Ockeghem, however, he was willing to employ repetition, sequence, and increasingly imitation in the manner of the other composers who were working around 1500 when the technique became widespread.
Agricola wrote masses, motets, secular songs in the prevailing forms (rondeaux, bergerettes, chansons) and instrumental music. Much of his instrumental music was based on secular music by Gilles Binchois or Ockeghem. Many of these pieces had become quite popular in the late 15th century.
Agricola is one of the few transitional figures between the Burgundian style and the style of the Josquin generation of Netherlanders who actually wrote music in both styles.
There were other composers named Agricola who might be confused with Alexander Agricola:
Georg Ludwig Agricola (1643 - 1676) (also an important writer)
Johannes Agricola (c1560 - 1601)
Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720 - 1774) (also musicographer, organist and singing master)
Johann Paul Agricola (1638 or 1639 - 1697)
Martin Agricola (1486 - 1556) (More important as a theorist and teacher)
Wolfgang Christoph Agricola (c1600 - c1659)
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