While it might seem reasonable that we should not expect too many surprises to come out of the 15th century, the extraordinarily beautiful and imaginative music of Jean Mouton (before 1459 – 1522) may well be one that is left for you, as it was for me.
In essence, Mouton’s music is similar to that of other composers of his time: Ockeghem and Josquin des Prez for example. Polyphonic voices are of generally equal importance, canonical and imitative. Yet Mouton’s music remains exceptional not only relative to that of these two masters, but perhaps to the entire scope of Renaissance music. What Mouton achieves to a greater extent than any of his contemporaries is a sense of peace and tranquility that is a wonder to hear over the course of this 68 minute program. Short and lucid melodic lines in crystal clear textures allow every vocal thread to be easily discerned. Listening to this, you get the plain impression that Mouton is concerned not only with the horizontal effect of his music, but also with the vertical. It was not possible for me to listen without getting the impression that harmonic considerations were as important as contrapuntal ones in the crafting of this music. In his excellent notes, it’s fascinating to read The Tallis Scholars’ director Peter Philips explain how mathematically perfect Mouton’s music is, in addition to the unparalleled expressive atmosphere he creates.
We know that Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars are supreme in this repertoire. Here, they are well beyond technically polished and expressively fluent, achieving the realm the composer surely imagined. Mouton’s tranquil and gorgeous music will be a wonderful discovery for anyone who appreciates the music of this time and space. Listen to a sample of the last work on this CD, the Nesicens Mater. It is a live recording and it is not performed by the Tallis Scholars, but it will give you a sense of Mouton’s art.
In my ambition to put before the public Renaissance composers who deserve to be better known, Jean Mouton (before 1459- 1522) is a classic case. With a musical language quite distinct from everyone else, he was nonetheless routinely compared with Josquin in his lifetime on account of his astonishing technique. His music is able to convey such a spirit of calm and poise that in the whole gamut of Renaissance art it is really only rivalled by the altar-pieces of such painters as Giovanni Bellini and Hans Memling. Other composers who tried for the same mood – like Lhéritier or Agricola – are simply less interesting.
Composer: Jean Mouton
Jean Mouton (c. 1459 – 30 October 1522) was a French composer of the Renaissance. He was famous both for his motets, which are among the most refined of the time, and for being the teacher of Adrian Willaert, one of the founders of the Venetian School… read more
Conductor: Peter Phillips
Peter Phillips has made an impressive if unusual reputation for himself in dedicating his life’s work to the research and performance of Renaissance polyphony. Having won a scholarship to Oxford in 1972, Peter Phillips… read more
Performers: The Tallis Scholars
Reviewers have praised the supple clarity and tone of their vocal lines as the group have sought to bring Renaissance repertoire to a wider audience in churches, cathedrals and venues on every continenton the planet except Antarctica. These include… read more