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Missa Benedictus dominus
Jean Mouton


Transcription by Marnix van Berchum and Theodor Dumitrescu

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XML score data: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus dei

Sources listed in database

Source Loc. Title Voices Attribution
"Io. mouton"
Missa Benedictus Dominus Deus [incomplete]
Missa Benedictus Dominus Deus meus
Missa Benedictus Dominus
"Johannes mouton "


Missa Benedictus dominus incipit: M4015
MunBS 510
Missa Benedictus dominus incipit: MunBS 510
ReggioSP s.s.
Missa Benedictus dominus incipit: ReggioSP s.s.
ToleF 23
Missa Benedictus dominus incipit: ToleF 23

Editor's Commentary

Mouton's extended setting of the mass - the longest item in the Occo Codex and most of its other sources - offers a striking combination of stylistic choices. A highly imitative four-voice texture which expands in the final Agnus dei (to six voices), typical of the early 16th-century mass, is juxtaposed with a fluid mixture of cantus firmus and "parody" technique, drawing upon Févin's motet Benedictus dominus deus. The resulting setting occupies a place in between the older Tenor-based mass and the standard 16th-century mass reworkings of polyphonic models, confidently integrating the elements characteristic of each.

It is striking that Mouton's exercise takes as its starting point Févin's very typically French motet, with its prominent employment of four-voice homophony at the opening and ending segments, clear phrase divisions, balanced duet-pairs with imitation at the 5th, and frequent declamative recitation in minims at phrase openings.1 The mass adopts an entirely different posture, taking over only a few of these elements and particularly eschewing the simple homophony which marks the motet at important junctures. Structurally the motet's Tenor alone lies at the heart of Mouton's mass, duplicated in the same note values so that it is rhythmically of the same character as the other voices (in contradistinction to earlier continental cantus firmus practice). The fact that this is the only voice not to share the imitative motives at the opening of each movement serves as an initial distinguishing marker, but further along the voice tends to become more integrated, participating gradually in imitations and freeing itself from the strict quotation of the motet Tenor. These deliberately introduced irregularities show themselves in the overall plan to fit within a quotation scheme of the simplest order, relying upon no more than a few fixed division points within the model, already divided in its original form into two partes (see Table 1).

Table 1: Model usage in Missa Benedictus dominus

Movement Section Measures of model Partes of model
Kyrie Kyrie I 1-30 Prima pars
Criste 31-58
Kyrie II 58-83
Gloria Et in terra 1-83 Prima pars
Domine deus agnus 84-100 Secunda pars
Qui tollis 101-156
Credo Patrem 1-83 Prima pars
Crucifixus 1-83 Prima pars
Et in spiritum 84-156 Secunda pars
Sanctus Sanctus 1-30 Prima pars
Pleni 31-58
Osanna I 58-83
Benedictus 1-58 Prima pars
Osanna II 58-83
Agnus dei Agnus I/II 84-110 Secunda pars
Agnus III 110-156

Working within this static structural layout, Mouton fills in a polyphonic meshwork of studied subtelty. An extended exercise in seamless contrapuntal recombination, the setting shines especially where it works against Févin's employment of basic materials, producing a complementary vision of the contrapuntal possibilities rather than a sterile duplication of the model. Typically, Mouton works not by simply copying the model's imitative points as might happen in a later "parody" mass, but instead takes over precisely the motives which are not treated this way in the model and weaves new imitative structures out of these. The opening motive of Kyrie II (mm. 63-77) offers an interesting example: a melody which in the motet is merely stated by the Tenor alone (Benedictus dominus deus, mm. 58-61), and repeated partially by the Bassus, becomes the basis in Mouton's reworking for paired duets in imitation at the 5th, reflecting the model's fundamental techniques without using the same motives. By way of contrast, one of the motives treated in this way in the model, beginning at mm. 31 and 44, is a prime candidate for imitative reworking with its upward leap of a 5th, but Mouton makes a show of resisting this temptation, placing it at the opening of the Criste in the Tenor alone (m. 31) against three-voice imitation of an unrelated motive (which for its part hints at inversion of the Kyrie's headmotive).

Transformation of existing imitative materials has an important role to play as well. The end of Kyrie II (mm. 83-97) mirrors the end of the prima pars of the model (mm. 78-83), employing an imitative fragment descending sequentially to bring each section to a close. But Mouton conspicuously rearranges Févin's version, transforming a rather brief sequence, in which two voice pairs move in parallel thirds (Superius-Bassus and Contratenor-Tenor), into a three-voice version which is both more extended and more regularized. Mouton's complex here furthermore combines the model's Tenor flawlessly with an intervallically modified form of itself, the Contratenor and Bassus replacing a downward returning 3rd in the sequence with a downward 2nd which makes them proceed entirely in stepwise motion.

Such techniques are to be found throughout the setting in a multitude of forms and functions, culminating ultimately in the motivically rich and yet non-canonic final six-voice Agnus dei. The mass's recombinations, patternings, inversions, and motivic self-referentiality seem in principle to flow freely in a continuous stream, but often hide intricate constructions. In this as in many of Mouton's masterworks, a model can be found for the best contrapuntal work of the succeeding generations.


Judging by not only the number of sources, but also their geographical and chronological distribution, the present composition must rank among the best-known of Mouton's masses alongside settings such as Tua est potentia, Dictes moy, and Regina mearum. Already the earliest surviving sources hint at this wide transmission: a 1515 print from Petrucci's press, a neatly executed choirbook from southern Germany (MunBS 510), and a deluxe manuscript from the Habsburg-Burgundian court scribe Alamire for a patron in Amsterdam (BrusBR IV.922). Continued interest in this and other Mouton masses - attesting surely to their seminal role in foregrounding advanced imitative technique within the mass - is indicated by later appearances, for instance alongside works of Jacquet of Mantua in the 1530s Ferrarese partbooks ReggioSP s.s., or in a late 16th-century study score containing extended sets of music by Palestrina and Rore (the "Bourdeney Manuscript").

Of the mass's seven copies, three display an unusually close level of correspondence: M4015 (the Petrucci print), MunBS 510, and ParisBNC 851 (the Bourdeney Manuscript). These agree very often in melodic-rhythmic details, use of coloration, ligatures, and marked accidentals, where they differ from the other sources. Where this includes agreement in error (as between M4015 and MunBS 510 in the reading at Gloria, Superius mm. 62-3), it is clear that these three sources form a separate transmission group. Viewed in terms of the historical evidence, it seems likely that within this group Petrucci's book served as the source for the Bourdeney copy (where, the music being in score, simple contrapuntal errors such as the one just noted would be easily corrected); it is more difficult to judge whether the Munich version was likewise copied out of the print.

In the other copies of the composition, the scribes were clearly more liberal in their treatment of minor ornamentation, coloration, and other details, thus offering little unequivocal information regarding transmission patterns. The Occo Codex is invaluable as the only source to preserve a four-voice passage in the middle of Agnus I (mm. 26-32) which appears to have been excised from an early exemplar for the other copies.2 The imitative counterpoint of this segment is of a high quality and virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the mass in terms of style and motivic usage. It is possible to explain the ommission by observing that the Tenor uses the same musical material at the end of the unique passage as just before it (mm. 23-5 and 30-32): an accidental scribal oversight of the repeat (haplography) could easily have led to a performers' "repair" in which the corresponding material was deleted from the other voices.

Pre-existent material: Anthoine de Févin, Benedictus dominus deus (polyphonic motet)

Editorially supplied material: Plainchant intonations of Gloria and Credo supplied from Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, MS lat. 14452, ff. 136v, 243v (Gradual of St. Victor of Paris, 13th century, with additions dated 1567)

[1] On the features of the early 16th-century French motet, especially as reflected later in compositions of Sermisy, see John T. Brobeck, The Motet at the Court of Francis I (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1991), pp. 181-363.
[2] The previous edition of the mass does not include this passage, being based on only the three sources M4015, MunBS 510, and CambraiBM 4; Jean Mouton, Opera omnia, ed. Andrew C. Minor and Thomas G. MacCracken, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 43 (n.p.: American Institute of Musicology, 1967-), v. 1.

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