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Missa L'oserai-je dire
Jean Mouton


Transcription by Theodor Dumitrescu

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

Sources listed in database

Source Loc. Title Voices Attribution
Missa L'oserai-je dire [incomplete]


's-HerAB 72C
Missa L'oserai-je dire incipit: 's-HerAB 72C

Editor's Commentary

The present setting offers an uncommon spectacle: Mouton as composer of a traditional cantus firmus mass, taking on a monophonic chanson melody with techniques common during the years when he was on the make as a composer. Although the previously published edition of this mass suggests a connection with a four-voice song (Loseraye dire) found anonymously in Odhecaton A (1501), the relationship between the two compositions goes no farther than the fact that both are based upon the same one-voice melody.1 This tune is preserved in mensural notation among many other such items in the Bayeux Manuscript (no. 17, where its text begins as Ne loseray je dire; see below for a reproduction). A simple tuneful melody with clear structural divisions in the form AA'BBA' with cadence scheme CFFFF, the song lends itself to schematic treatment in a manner which naturally integrates the sections of Mouton's composition.

Although the opening movement of the mass tends to downplay the structural role of the Tenor, integrating brief portions of long-note cantus firmus quotation into the other voices and often allowing the Tenor more rhythmically intricate passages, the traditional format comes through unabashedly beginning in the Gloria. Quotation of the A segment in primarily longae and breves in the opening four-voice polyphony of the Gloria serves as an unmistakable reference to the usage in masses written decades earlier (and which had become the exception rather than the rule by 1500), as does the eventual breakdown of this part into smaller note values and the repetition of the tune at a normal speed to finish the section (Gloria, mm. 54-63). The Credo is clearer yet in its conceptual separation of the cantus firmus, which now appears in an additional fifth voice written at the bottom of the opening in all sources, whose melodic material almost invariably contrasts with the other voices rather than providing motives and imitative points. The appearance of repeat signs in the structural voice of the Crucifixus and Osanna makes explicit a strict ostinato format in these sections, and the final six-voice Agnus dei III places the cantus firmus in two voices in canon at the 5th, these various rational manipulations reflecting a side of Mouton's compositional character which can hardly be recognized in a mass such as Benedictus dominus. An overview of the structural cantus firmus plan of the mass is found in Table 1.

Table 1: Cantus firmus citations in Missa L'oserai-je dire

Movement Section Phrases of model Voices
Kyrie Kyrie I A(A') Tenor
Criste B Tenor (Bassus/Contratenor)
Kyrie II AA' Tenor
Gloria Et in terra AA' Tenor
(B1AA') Tenor/all
Qui tollis AA Superius/Contratenor
B Tenor
A(A') Superius/Tenor
Credo Patrem AA'BAA' Tenor 1
Crucifixus AA'AA'AA'AA' Tenor 1
Confiteor BAA' Tenor 1
Sanctus Sanctus AA' Tenor
Pleni - -
Osanna B1B1B1B Tenor
Benedictus - -
Agnus dei Agnus I AA' Superius
Agnus II - -
Agnus III BAA' Tenor 1 / Tenor 2

Notes: Table includes only basic structural cantus firmus, and does not take into account pre-imitations and other passing citations. Segments in parentheses represent highly decorated/modified versions of the melody.

Mouton seems to have employed a slightly different arrangement of the melody than that found in the Bayeux Manuscript, distinguished principally by a division of the B section into two separate parts (B1: the simple four-pitch motive sol-mi-fa-mi; and B2, the cadential formula following thereupon). The Bayeux version, which simply repeats both segments in the form B1B2B1B2, is never duplicated in Mouton's cantus firmus; the form in the mass is B1B1B2, with B1 often repeated multiple times before the cadential ending in B2 is allowed to finish a section. The repeat of A material at the end of the tune in Mouton's version, furthermore, is always a complete repeat (AA'), becoming thereby indistinguishable from the opening statement.

From a stylistic viewpoint, this could be among Mouton's earliest surviving masses, exhibiting not only a traditional structural approach but also a less standardized attitude toward imitation and motivic cohesion than is found in many of his other settings. The passage at mm. 38-41 and following in the Gloria may serve as an indicative example. Following directly upon the most important cadential division within the section, Mouton here takes up a typical imitative melody in two voices, but the imitation is at the upper 6th (c-aa). In a more classical formulation, one would expect lower 5th imitation (g-c) which would work perfectly here and could be repeated by the other two voices in a balancing duet. Instead Mouton's duet is answered by different material which avoids simple lucid structures, offering in mm. 41-8 a variegated patchwork of three different motives, none of which is combined with itself in imitative counterpoint.

The guiding principles are clearly different from those of the classic 16th-century mass. Here the primary concern is texture, pacing, musical energy, a motivic conception which is separable from the structural imitation which naturally also plays a role. The Tenor/cantus firmus does not control the shifts of texture and pace as in earlier settings, but in its polyphonic integration contributes more than any other part to the overall musical argument. All of these are matters which occupied composers at the end of the 15th century. The pre-imitation of the cantus firmus in duet form at the opening of Kyrie could have come straight from an Obrecht mass of the late 1480s or 1490s - even the combination here of the melody with itself at different speeds (a pseudo-mensuration canon), ensuring that the tune's opening saturates all voices at the beginning of the mass, has its parallels in Obrecht.2 Mouton is exploring the structural possibilities of melodic unification, but at this stage it is not yet of central importance.

These hints of an early origin for this mass are perhaps reflected in its restricted transmission, its traditional cantus firmus-based structures and limited motivicity offering lesser interest to the collectors and musicians of later generations than some of Mouton's other masses. Although the composition survives today in four manuscripts, these all derive from the Habsburg-Burgundian court scriptorium during its years under Petrus Alamire and thus provide no hint of how well-known the work might have been. In one of these books, moreover, the mass's inclusion may have been due to a desire for completeness: 's-HerAB 72C was clearly intended as a retrospective Mouton collection, containing eight of his masses alternating with motets, thereby covering all but one of the Mouton masses found in Alamire sources.

Pre-existent material: [Ne] l'oserai-je dire, monophonic chanson treated as scaffolding cantus firmus usually in Tenor

Ne l'oserai-je dire melody
ParisBNF 9436, f. 17v (phrase divisions indicated in red)

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] "The source for the cantus firmus is the anonymous chanson 'L'oserai je dire' published by Petrucci in his Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A (1501)." Jean Mouton, Opera omnia, ed. Andrew C. Minor and Thomas G. MacCracken, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 43 (n.p.: American Institute of Musicology, 1967-), v. 3, p. x. Another setting (Loseraige dire) found anonymously in Canti C (1503-4) bears a closer stylistic relationship to the mass, but neither chanson can really be called a direct source of material for Mouton.
[2] See the extended discussion of Obrecht's development during these years in Rob C. Wegman, Born for the Muses: The Life and Masses of Jacob Obrecht (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 200-284.

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