I was mystified at first why The Brabant Ensemble would record the music of Jean Mouton again, and then surprised to realise that the earlier recording on Hyperion, of the Missa Tu es Petrus, is ten years old. It is the quality of the music that has drawn conductor Stephen Rice back to this still little-known but highly important Renaissance figure, who died exactly five hundred years ago.
Mouton, born in Northern France, spent much of his life working for the French court. His music was influenced by the rise of Protestantism, in that his counterpoint is not so closely imitative as, say, Morales or even Lassus as in the work which comes second on this disc Gaude virgo Katherina. Mouton seems to have been—especially here—very aware of chordal and harmonic speed. The motet, ideal for this choir, is in a major mode, bright and openly cheerful.
Either side of this motet we hear two six-part motets unique for Mouton: Confitemini Domino on Psalm 117 and Benedicam Dominum on Psalm 33. Stephen Rice in his usual detailed and fascinating booklet essay tells us that they are ‘in a sense, twins’. They are found together in a Vatican manuscript (and both are complexly canonic if I can say that). On the other hand, the brief and simple motet for Corpus Christi O Salutaris hostia is also very homophonic, especially in the setting of its first line.
These three works demonstrate immediately the sound that The Brabant Ensemble make. It is fresh, open-throated, clear in diction and expressive all at once. This has been their style throughout the fourteen or so years they have been recording.
It seems that French music, Mouton’s especially, was popular all over Europe, also at the Italian courts. Of course, he knew Josquin des Prez. I have always thought that Josquin composed the chanson Faulte d’argent but Stephen Rice does not say directly that he did. Now that attributions to Josquin are being severely questioned, I wonder if he did not. Anyway, fragments of the melody can be found all through Mouton’s Mass. It appears, for example, in the final bars of the Gloria and throughout the Sanctus but it can bubble up anywhere. There are also several wonderful homophonic sections, such as the ‘Domine Fili unigenite’ in the Gloria. There is an equally memorable chordal passage beginning ‘et homo factus est’ in the Credo.
Another perhaps surprising harmonic twist is the so-called English cadence that one might find in Tallis: the major and minor thirds are heard simultaneously. Here, this occurs at the end of the Gloria and towards the end of the Credo. This fine Mass ends with a lovely extended Agnus dei. Each movement has three to five tracks which align with Rice’s booklet analysis, and his comments are worth following through as you listen.
There are three other motets. The Christmas setting of Illuminare Jerusalem is in a suitably jaunty major key, and words come at least four biblical sources. O quam fulges in aetheris is a five-stanza poem in honour of the Virgin Mary; the first and last verses are set in the same mainly homophonic style. This beautiful and gentle work has three middle verses set to delicate polyphony. And Laudate Deum in sanctis eius is an unashamedly joyous work whose open harmonies suit the choir wonderfully. In final cadences of all these works, their perfect fifths are superbly tuned.
The booklet contains all Latin texts and English translations.