"Beyond the accepted order of things" begins the text of a thirteenth-century Sequence about the mystery of the Incarnation; richly deep in the sonic depths begins Josquin Desprez's setting of the same text, Praeter rerum seriem. First printed in 1519, but probably composed earlier, this six-voiced Christmas motet presents an extremely tight series of imitative motifs around the central chant melody; the chant itself passes back and forth between Superius and Tenor voices in often near-canonic relationship. For much of the motet, Josquin counterpoises textural groups: the three lowest voices heard at the opening are placed in an antiphonal relationship with the upper three voices (when the melody is in the Superius), and both are juxtaposed with the full six-voiced sonority. Though all the voices are in fact frely composed, pairs throughout imitate one another so intimately that an illusion of canon obtains.
Following the common form of the late Medieval Sequence, successive strophes of text, in pairs, take the same melody. Josquin's setting observes this underlying structure, but also imposes its own trajectory. The first two strophes comprise the first part of the motet, with the cantus firmus of the second strophe (from "nec vir tangit") at double the speed, a vestige of the traditions of Isorhythm. Over the course of the second part of the motet, the rhythmic pace accelerates (to duple time, and then to a fast triple time symbolically referencing the Trinity), and the textural boundaries between voices blur themselves. Just before the final strophe of text, at the phrase "omnia tam suave," hemiola syncopations blunt the edge of the jaunty triple-time, and the entire piece seems to revert to its opening sense of awe for the prayerful close.