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Hyperion Records

CDA67933 - Mouton: Missa Tu es Petrus & other works
Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael (1483-1520)
Victoria & Albert Museum, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: August 2011
The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Antony Pitts
Engineered by Justin Lowe
Release date: June 2012
DISCID: 970F840B
Total duration: 66 minutes 7 seconds


'This gorgeous album presents all the works for eight voices which are certainly attributable to Mouton, plus one for five and two for four voices … these pieces are refreshingly airy and transparent. Mouton's exquisite music and The Brabant Ensemble's graceful performances are well-served by Antony Pitts' production and the acoustic of St Michael and All Angels, Oxford … highly recommended' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This outstanding disc by the youthful Brabant Ensemble, accomplished specialists in this repertoire … the Brabant's singing throughout is polished, flexible, lean and—exactly what you want here—transcendent' (The Observer)

'Mouton is given due attention and polish in these performances by The Brabant Ensemble. Such ingeniously structured pieces as the motet Nesciens mater are impressive in their richness of texture, and the main work, the Missa Tu es Petrus, deploys the voices in expressively fluent counterpoint' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The lucidity of both The Brabant Ensemble's singing and Rice's direction is hugely accomplished … [Missa Tu es Petrus is] a work of radiance and clarity … strikingly well sung … Hyperion is still setting the standard in this infinitely rewarding repertory' (International Record Review)

Missa Tu es Petrus & other works
including the complete eight-part motets
Kyrie  [3'38] GreekEnglish

Jean Mouton was a Renaissance French composer and choirmaster, much acknowledged but more rarely recorded, who wrote a body of music that’s both technically inventive and immediately appealing. Here Stephen Rice and The Brabant Ensemble—renowned exponents of sixteenth-century Franco-Flemish repertoire—perform all Mouton’s eight-part music, two four-part motets, and his only five-part Mass setting, the Missa Tu es Petrus. The latter is characterized by light, clear textures and a soaring cantus firmus, while the double-choir Nesciens mater is rightly famous for its ingenious canon. Sheer compositional skill aside, all these works demonstrate Mouton’s vivid and original imagination—one that has the ability to speak directly to our time.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The historical significance of Jean Mouton (before 1459–1522) has long been acknowledged, but his music has rarely received the attention that his position would suggest is merited. To modern audiences only a few pieces are familiar: the remarkable Nesciens mater, the joyous Noë, noë psallite, and the evocative Queramus cum pastoribus. (That all these three are Christmas motets is probably coincidental.) Born near Samer in the Pas-de-Calais, his first known singing position was in the small town of Nesle, between Amiens and St Quentin, which he joined in 1477, becoming maître de chapelle in 1483, by which time he was also a priest (and therefore over the age of twenty-five). In the 1490s there is sketchy evidence that he was active at St Omer, and by 1500 he was master of the child choristers at Amiens Cathedral. Thus far, Mouton was a provincial cathedral musician. In 1501, however, he took a position in Grenoble, on the edge of the Alps, but he left this post without permission only a year later. It seems likely that he had joined the chapel of the Queen, Anne of Brittany, who visited Grenoble in the summer of 1502, and the last twenty years of his life were spent in far more exalted circumstances than perhaps he could have imagined achieving as a middle-aged choirmaster in Amiens. Mouton remained in Anne of Brittany’s service until her death in 1514, transferring at that point to the chapel of her widower Louis XII and, following Louis’s death the next year, to that of Louis’s son-in-law and successor, Francis I.

As well as his continued employment at the French court, Mouton found favour with the music-loving Medici Pope, Leo X, who reigned from 1513 to 1521 and named the composer an apostolic notary. There are several mentions in contemporary writings of the high regard in which Leo held Mouton’s music. Like many clerical singers in the late Middle Ages, Mouton acquired several benefices (positions as canon, rector or similar, which could carry considerable income while often being held vicariously). These included canonicates in Grenoble, St Quentin, and Thérouanne. At his death in 1522, Mouton was buried in St Quentin, as a few years earlier had been Loyset Compère, another composer who may previously have held the same canonry. Alongside his own output of musical works, Mouton taught composition to Adrian Willaert, a leading figure of the next generation who was director of music at St Mark’s, Venice, for thirty-five years.

This album contains all of the works in eight parts that can be attributed with confidence to Mouton’s pen. As mentioned, Nesciens mater is renowned for combining one of the most ingenious canonic structures possible with complete musical mastery. The eight voices comprise a canon 8 ex 4, at the upper fifth and a distance of two breves: within this strict constraint, the composer achieves an enviable variety not only of harmony, but also of counterpoint, texture, and speed of harmonic motion, creating a musical structure that fully deserves its reputation as one of the finest masterpieces of the sixteenth century.

Equally ingenious in canonic terms, though on a smaller scale, is Ave Maria, gemma virginum, which is also a canon 8 ex 4 at two breves’ distance, but this time at the octave. (In the Parisian print of 1534 in which the motet appears, no indication of the canonic interval is given: it would therefore be technically possible to perform it as an eight-part unison canon, though this would create an extremely congested texture.) Perhaps because a canon at the unison is even more restricted than other intervals—the danger of repetitious harmony being ever-present—Ave Maria is only thirty-five breves in length, less than half the duration of Nesciens mater. Modally speaking it presents a relatively unusual case of a D-mode with B flat, corresponding more closely to the modern minor mode than is usual for so early a piece. The resulting plangent tone of supplication is highly suitable for the text, which pleads for Mary’s intercession at our time of death. As its title suggests, this motet is a miniature gem, which deserves to be better known.

Exsultet coniubilando must be a product of Mouton’s association with Leo X, since its text could scarcely refer to anyone else. According to Albert Dunning, this is the earliest ‘state motet’ to be composed in eight parts (the term derives from the title of Dunning’s 1970 book, Die Staatsmotette, which discusses all the then known pieces for royal, papal and non-liturgical commemorative occasions in the late fifteenth and sixteenth century). It boasts two different cantus firmi: one in the second tenor voice elaborates a hexachord, up and down in long notes (ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la; la-sol-fa-mi-re-ut). Curiously, the text assigned does not fit the number of notes: in the print of Mouton’s motets published by the French royal printers Le Roy and Ballard in 1555 (which despite the late date seems reasonably authoritative given its provenance, and in any case is the earliest surviving source) the voice is underlaid ‘Pastor ecclesiae Romanae, ora pro nobis’. At fourteen syllables this phrase cannot be sung to the twelve notes of the hexachord, and Le Roy and Ballard’s editor evidently realized this, placing the word ‘Romanae’ under the rests between the upward and downward statements of the scale. A slightly later source, the Thesaurus musicus of 1564, published in the Protestant city of Nuremberg by the firm of Berg and Neuber, substitutes ‘Christe’, for ‘Romanae’, changing the sense from ‘Shepherd of the Roman church, pray for us’, to ‘Shepherd of the church, O Christ, pray for us’. Since this word is not actually sung, this may be counted as one of the less significant theological distinctions of the sixteenth century, but in the spirit of authenticity the present performance follows the earlier source by choosing the word ‘Romanae’ for the omitted text, as the composer presumably intended.

The second cantus firmus clearly refers to a Pope: ‘The blessed Roman lived without sin’ (scarcely a true description of Leo X, but it might have been impolitic to point this out) ‘in the tabernacle of God’. The sumptuous eight-part texture together with archaic devices such as the use of a modus cum tempore mensuration in the first half mark this piece out as suitable for a ceremonial occasion. The unusual mensuration, which had largely disappeared by around 1475, indicates that the breve is arranged in a ternary relationship with the next higher note value, the long. Where longs still appeared in early sixteenth-century music, their value could usually be assumed to be twice that of a breve: the mensuration signs (functioning similarly to modern time signatures) more often concerned themselves with the shorter note values of breve, semibreve, and minim in which music was by this stage mostly written. Mouton handles this old-fashioned mensuration with considerable subtlety, switching the stress patterns continually between long and breve.

Verbum bonum et suave is one of the longest motets written at this time, and since it is also for eight voices, certainly one of the most elaborate. Mouton’s setting is melodically based on a Sequence, a form of rhymed plainchant, sung between the Alleluia and the Gospel during Mass, whose texts were written from the ninth century onwards and set monophonically more or less from that time onwards. This particular Sequence melody, which dates probably from the eleventh century, had attracted the attention of polyphonic composers from an early stage—there is for instance a version in two-part discant in the thirteenth-century manuscript known as ‘W1’ (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August Bibliothek, MS Guelf.628 Helmst.), and a fragmentary setting that is possibly even older was discovered at Netherbury, Dorset, in the 1960s. Mouton’s was the last generation of musicians to have liturgical reason to set most of the Sequence texts, including this one, since with four exceptions the singing of Sequences was abolished by the Council of Trent. The text of Verbum bonum, written for the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March) is set in three pairs of strophes rhyming AAAB/ CCCB. Musically speaking, the polyphony is set in varying antiphonal subgroups, with each strophe articulated with a cadence of some significance: the break between prima and secunda pars in fact occurs halfway through the second pair of strophes, which disrupts the rhyme scheme a little but allows for a climax on the words ‘laudant puerperium’ (‘honour the childbirth’) which complete the prima pars. At the very end of the piece, the elaborate Amen is a fitting conclusion to this monumental structure.

Since this recording claims to include all of Mouton’s eight-part motets, two other pieces should be mentioned which were considered for inclusion but rejected on grounds of spurious authorship. An eight-part setting of Inviolata, integra, et casta es, Maria is found in the manuscript Verona, Accademia Filarmonica, MS 218 (as indeed is Verbum bonum et suave). In one partbook it bears an attribution to Mouton, or rather ‘Moton’, but in the index of the same manuscript it is attributed to ‘Gunbert’—presumably Nicolas Gombert (c1495– c1560). In the Nuremberg print of 1564, discussed above in relation to Exsultet coniubilando, it is attributed to Philippe Verdelot, and this attribution is repeated in later sources. The piece is in fact an eight-part recomposition of Josquin Des Prez’s well-known setting for five voices, which has a canon reducing in distance as the piece goes on—three breves in the prima pars, two in the secunda and one in the tertia: in the eight-voice version the two canonic voices are reproduced verbatim, with six new parts composed around them. Since there are several basic contrapuntal errors in the piece, the authorship of any of these three highly skilled composers must be seen as somewhat unlikely. Also rejected, for similar reasons, is Fulgebunt iusti, which appears uniquely and apparently somewhat corruptly in the Verona manuscript. The status of attributions in this source was already known to be problematic in a number of instances where conflicting ascriptions exist, and the evidence of both of these pieces suggests that considerable scepticism needs to be exercised even where the Verona attribution is not contradicted elsewhere.

Two motets for four voices are also included: Factum est silentium is an extended and dramatic treatment of the Michaelmas story of the archangel’s fight with the dragon. Mouton takes every opportunity to paint the story in vivid terms, with striking use of homophony in several places, as well as contrapuntal skill and very varied harmony for this period. Bona vita, bona refectio, in contrast, invites a community of priests to what sounds like an excellent dinner: clearly these clergy were no ascetics. The music is suitably sunny and beguiling.

Fifteen complete Mass-settings by Mouton survive, of which Missa Tu es Petrus is the only one not in four parts. Here a cantus firmus has four additional parts composed around it, making five in all. The cantus firmus is set unusually high in the texture: in the present performance it is taken by women. Indeed, in the Agnus Dei the tenor is notated with the rubric ‘in diatessaron’, meaning that it should be performed a fourth higher than written, thus creating a new and lighter texture for the final movement. Elsewhere the texture is varied by the omission of a voice part (usually the tenor, as in the Christe eleison and Crucifixus sections) or two (the Benedictus, here sung by solo voices). Alongside his motets, the Mass as a whole demonstrates that, while aspects of his compositional technique are somewhat distinct from those of his great contemporary Josquin, Mouton is not just another sheep among the flock of Renaissance composers—he is, in the best sense, egregious.

Stephen Rice © 2012

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