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Jean Mouton

born: before 1459
died: 30 October 1522
country: France

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.

from notes by Stephen Rice © 2012


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