Mouton: Quis dabit oculis nostris

Did you join us for A Luminous New Year's Eve a few months ago? If so, you may remember an exquisite song by French composer Jean Mouton on our program, his Nesciens Mater Virgo verum. The Tallis Scholars will sing another of Mouton's masterpieces when they visit Calgary on April 24th: his Quis dabit oculis nostris.

About Jean Mouton

Jean Mouton (c.1459-1522)

Jean Mouton

Jean Mouton was a highly influential French composer and teacher of the Renaissance. A principal composer of the French court, one of his students was Adriaan Willaert, the Flemish composer who contributed greatly to the development of the Italian madrigal, and established Venice as an influential musical centre in the 16th century.

Because he was a principal composer for the French court, many of Mouton's works survive. He often composed music for state occasions such as weddings, coronations, papal elections, births, and deaths. One of these works, Quis dabit oculis nostris, was written for Queen Anne of Brittany, wife of King Louis XII of France, who died on 09 January 1514.

Quis dabit oculis nostris

Notes by Timothy Dickey, AllMusic
Accessed 03 April 2018

Mouton's four-voiced motet Quis dabit oculis nostris proved so popular it was still being printed nearly 50 years after Anne's death. The text borrows excerpts from her funeral sermon; it alludes to biblical texts which may have been read and it quotes the Requiem Mass. Throughout his setting of this potent text, Mouton maintains a tight control over musical expression, straining his art to incite the just grief of his French listeners.

The opening text quotes from Psalm 42. Listen for when the text first mentions the "fountain of tears" (fontem lachrymarum): Mouton writes a suddenly deep sonority followed by a trickling melisma. The text's rhetorical questions which follow, directly asking Brittany and France herself why they mourn, appear in paired duos; the composer repeats the strongest of these, "Does lamentation consume you?" twice, dramatically shifting to chordal homophony. The choir, speaking as it were in one voice (again homophonically), also repeats the punchline "defecit Anna" (Anne is dead.) The first part of the motet closes with a lengthy "musical" conclusion, "The joy of our hearts is converted to the sorrow of our song." The text alludes to Job 30, the common funeral motet text "Versa est in luctum."

The second part answers the earlier rhetorical questions with a series of mournful commands to the French people: "Therefore, cry out, O young men; weep, priests; wail, ye old; mourn, O singers...." Each new imitation takes on a slightly different melodic character. But again Mouton's counterpoint serves in total more to balance the weightiest command, that all France say, "Anna! Rest in peace!" The fermata-marked block chords return to support a descending melody in the highest voice twice crying her name. The "Requiescat in pace," the last words sung in both the Requiem Mass and the funeral service, is also repeated. Mouton transposes the same music down a third the second time, vividly embodying the national depression. The cadence of the last "Amen" fails to resolve the grief in this world.


Quis dabit oculis nostris fontem lacrimarum?
Et plorabimus die ac nocte coram

Britannia, quid ploras?
Musica, cur siles?
Francia, cur inducta lugubri veste
moerore consumeris?
Heu nobis, Domine, defecit Anna,
gaudium cordis nostri.
Conversus est in luctum chorus noster,
cecidit corona capitis nostri.
Ergo eiulate pueri, plorate sacerdotes,
ululate senes, lugete cantores,
plangite nobiles, et dicite:
Anna requiescat in pace. Amen.


Who will give to our eyes a well of tears?
And shall we weep day and night before the Lord?

Brittany, why do you lament?
Music, why are you silent?
France, why dressed in clothes of mourning
do you waste away in sorrow?
Woe to us, Lord, for Anne is gone,
the joy of our hearts.
Our song is turned into mourning,
and the crown has fallen from our heads.
Therefore cry out children, weep priests,
howl old men, mourn singers,
lament noblemen, and say:
May Anne rest in peace. Amen.