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Mouton’s music includes about twenty chansons (including “Qui ne regrettoit le gentil Févin?”, which explicitly honors his late colleague at the French court, Antoine De Févin), fifteen Masses (including Parody masses such as “Benedictus Dominus Jesus”, based on motet by, again, De Févin, himself a pioneer of the parody mass), 9 Magnificats and, most important, over 100 motets; many of his motets are occasional works, often clearly written by the official court composer for significant events in the life of the French royal family. Petrucci (active in Venice and Fossombrone in 1500–20) issued one book of the Masses (1515) and Le Roy & Ballard a posthumous book of motets (1555). Other works were printed in anthologies or survive in manuscript. These compositions show an impressive mastery of contrapuntal techniques, especially canon, and a predominance of contrapuntal textures. Many pieces employ borrowed material of some sort, whether used as a cantus firmus, paraphrased, or parodied; a few are freely composed. The style of Mouton’s music was originally still similar to that of Josquin Desprez, using paired imitation, canonic techniques, and equal-voiced polyphonic writing: yet Mouton tends to write more rhythmically and texturally uniform, with all the voices singing, and with relatively little textural contrast. Around 1500, Mouton seemingly became more aware of chords and harmonic feeling, probably influenced by Italian music in this period of transition between purely linear thinking in music, in which chords were incidental occurrences as a result of correct usage of intervals, and music in which the harmonic element was foremost (for example in lighter Italian forms such as the frottola, which are homophonic in texture and sometimes have frankly diatonic harmony).
The music of Mouton, throughout his life highly regarded by his contemporaries and much in demand by patrons, was reprinted and continued to attract other composers even later in the 16th century, especially his joyful Christmas motets “Noe, noe psallite noe” and “Quaeramus cum pastoribus”, which several later composers (even the Spaniard Christóbal Morales) used as the basis for masses.
- Heavenly Spheres, CBC Records, MVCD 1121, sung by Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. Contains one motet by Mouton, Nesciens mater (for eight voices).
- Flemish Masters, Virginia Arts Recordings, VA-04413, performed by Zephyrus. Includes Mouton’s motet, Nesciens mater, the Obrecht Missa Sub tuum presidium, as well as motets by Willaert, Clemens non Papa, Ockeghem, Josquin Des Prez and Gombert.
Jean Mouton (his first name is also spelled Jehan, the medieval ayw, of Johannes, in Latin) was a (Franco-)Flemish Polyphony-composer of the Third Generation (championed by Josquin Des Prez), best known for his refined motets. He probably got his first job, as singer and teacher, at the collegiate church in Nesle (southeast of Amiens) in 1477, becoming in 1483 its maître de chapelle. Sometime around this time he was ordained priest (later deriving some income from benefices — ecclesiastical positions — at St. André in Grenoble and in St. Quentin), and in 1500 was in charge of choirboys at the cathedral in Amiens. In 1501 Mouton was active in Grenoble (in the Dauphiné), teaching choirboys, but he left in 1502, most likely entering the service of Anne, the last Queen of Brittany and wife of Louis XII of France, and in 1509 he was granted a position again in Grenoble which he could hold in absentia. For the remainder of his life Mouton served the French court in one capacity or another, since 1515 as principal composer under the next Valois-king, François I, often writing music for state occasions — weddings, coronations, papal elections, births and deaths.
He may have edited the masterly illuminated Medici Codex, an official gift from François I to Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino. His compositions were among the favorites of Pope Leo X, for whose election in 1513 he composed the motet “Christus vincit”; Leo who evidently liked Mouton’s music rewarded him with the honorary rank of apostolic notary (a college in the Roman Curia) on the occasion of a motet he composed for the pope in 1515; the pope made this award during his meeting in Bologna with the French king after the Battle of Marignano. This trip to Italy was the first, and probably only trip that Mouton made outside of France.
Circa 1520 the Swiss music theorist Heinrich Glarean met Mouton and praised him effusively, writing that “everyone had copies of his music”, characterizing Mouton’s melodic style with the phrase “his melody flows in a supple thread” and used several examples of Mouton’s music in his influential treatise, the Dodecachordon. Adrian Willaert (of the fourth generation, champion of the Venetian school) was his student in Counterpoint and Canon-techniques at the royal court in Paris circa 1514-15 and honored him by basing two Parody masses (“imitation” was at the time considered hommage, not plagiarism) on Motets by him: “Gaude Barbara” and “Missa Quaramus cum Pastoribus”. It is unproven but likely that Mouton was in charge of the elaborate musical festivities by the French (as William Cornysh, on the English side) at the meeting between François I and Tudor-king Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. Near the end of his life, Mouton moved to St. Quentin, apparently taking over as canon from Loyset Compère who died in 1518, where Jehan also died and was buried.
[This contribution is endebted to the book “De Vlaamse Polyfonie” by KULeuven’s musicology professor Ignace Bossuyt and the HOASM site which links below.]