On January 25, 1515, the Cathedral of Rheims was thronged for the coronation of François I as King of France. The Archbishop himself bestowed the crown. Amid the pomp and procession, an eyewitness reported that the Archbishop recited the text "Domine, salvum fac regem" as one of the official prayers over the newly crowned royal head. The refrain of this text, "God save the King," comes from the final verse to the Latin Psalm 19, a psalm assigned by early liturgical tradition as a prayer for kings. The complete text -- which alternates prayers for the king and for the "Catholic flock" in his care and God's -- formed part of French coronation rituals as early as 1223. It seems nearly certain that Jean Mouton the longtime musical servant of the French royal chapel composed his own motet setting of Domine salvum fac for the coronation of his patron François.
Solemnity and celebration cry out from his music, starting in the very first measure. Two voices a fifth apart twice exclaim the single invocation "Domine" on repeated pitches, in a strong and high register. Instead of mere voices, Mouton clearly mimics a royal fanfare of trumpets. Indeed, the four high voices and the general melodic style in the motet (not to mention the exalted ceremony it served) have suggested brassy instrumental accompaniment to the voices. Mouton's characteristic rhythms work very well both for voices and (for instance) cornetti in Domine salvum fac: bursts of shorter note values, especially dotted rhythms, give a strong momentum to an otherwise steady marching beat of whole notes. The composer does retain, however, the liberty to shape his music in response to the local sense of his text. The only motive involving an initial melodic descent, for instance, occurs at the text describing the Law being given (down from God) to Moses. The textual refrain of "God save the king" returns several times in the first half of the motet, with similar vocal fanfares, but only once in the second. A single fanfare in the highest voice sounds above the texture near the end; the lower voices instead present exuberant upward melismatic scales. Mouton thus concludes the motet by merging prayers for the singular exalted ruler, and for each person hearing to "ascend to heaven after this life."