The Cardinall’s Musick, William Byrd, and The Music of Rome

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Program: #17-27, Air Date: 06/26/17

Conductor Andrew Carwood guides us through more of his extraordinary Tallis edition.

NOTE: All of the music on this program is from the recordings featuring The Cardinall’s Musick directed by our guest Andrew Carwood. For more information on this ensemble: http://www.cardinallsmusick.com/

I. Allegri’s Miserere and the Music of Rome (Hyperion CD CDA 67860).

Allegri: Miserere & the music of Rome

The Cardinall’s Musick finished 2010 in a blaze of glory with their Gramophone Recording of the Year award for the last volume of their Byrd Edition. Only the second time in thirty years that an Early Music recording has received this prestigious accolade, it is a fitting tribute to the soaring artistry of the group and their director, Andrew Carwood.

Their eagerly-awaited next disc features music from late sixteenth-century Rome and ranges from Allegri’s Miserere, surely the best-known and best-loved work of this period, to a rarely-performed or recorded oddity. Seven Roman musicians came together (or were brought together) to write a Mass-setting where they each contributed different sections. The resulting work, the twelve-voice Missa Cantantibus organis, is a tribute both to Cecilia (the patron saint of music) and to Palestrina. The seven composers each take themes found in Palestrina’s motet of the same name and use them as the starting point for their new compositions. Palestrina himself is among the seven, with Giovanni Andrea Dragoni, Ruggiero Giovannelli, Curzio Mancini, Prospero Santini, Francesco Soriano and Annibale Stabile being the other six. All seven composers were prominent maestri in Rome and most appear to have had contact with Palestrina either as choristers or pupils.

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Late sixteenth-century Rome was a vigorous and energetic place, stimulated in part by the way in which the Catholic Church had responded to the gauntlet thrown down by the religious reformers of Northern Europe. Two new priestly orders had arisen—the Jesuits and the Oratorians—both with fire in their bellies and a great zeal for evangelism. Lavish works of architecture, art, literature and music revealed a Church which was neither damaged by the Reformation, nor in retreat, but striding forward with ever greater confidence. Both prelates and aristocrats were patrons of the arts and they were often in competition to employ the finest musicians and to put on ever larger events. One of the ways in which Roman musicians responded to these demands was to develop the art of polychoral music, with two, three or even four choirs performing together, either to produce a massive choral sound or to allow rhetorical ‘discussion’, with one choir answering another, sometimes taking the harmonies in another direction, or jumping in with new material, or being kept silent only to enter with greater force a little later.
This was a new direction for music, different to the style inherited and developed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/6–1594), one derived essentially from Flemish composers such as Josquin Des Prez. Imitation was at the centre of their work: a melody would be sung in one voice and then copied a few beats later by another part at a different but complementary pitch, followed by yet another voice and so forth. This style can be seen in a late form in the motet Cantantibus organis (1575) by Palestrina, where the opening intervals of a fourth or a fifth are imitated in each voice part and many themes emerge during the course of the piece, all of which are playfully repeated in a true musical democracy. The new polychoral style was often more concerned with homophony, when a single choir could declaim the text with all voice parts moving essentially at the same time and another choir could respond. Palestrina embraced this style wholeheartedly, producing in his later publications many pieces for two choirs and some for three.

Palestrina trained as a chorister at S Maria Maggiore in Rome and his first appointment was in 1544 as organist of S Agapito in Palestrina (the town from which we derive his name). By 1551 he had returned to Rome as magister cantorum of the Cappella Giulia and was admitted to the Cappella Sistina in 1555, only to be dismissed in the same year, a casualty of Pope Paul IV’s new regulation that married singers were not suitable members of his choir. As a result he became maestro at S Giovanni in Laterano but returned to S Maria Maggiore in 1560. In April 1571 he once again became maestro of the Cappella Giulia where he remained until his death. He was the pre-eminent composer of his generation and had a wide influence on all musicians who came into contact with his music. He was therefore an obvious choice to be at the centre of a new project when seven Roman musicians came together (or were brought together) to write a Mass-setting where they each contributed different sections. The resulting work, the twelve-voice Missa Cantantibus organis, is a tribute both to Cecilia (the patron saint of music) and to Palestrina. The seven composers each take themes found in Palestrina’s motet of the same name and use them as the starting point for their new compositions. Palestrina himself is among the seven, with Giovanni Andrea Dragoni, Ruggiero Giovannelli, Curzio Mancini, Prospero Santini, Francesco Soriano and Annibale Stabile being the other six. All seven composers were prominent maestri in Rome and most appear to have had contact with Palestrina either as choristers or pupils. They were also all members of the Vertuosa Compagnia dei Musici di Roma, a society designed for mutual support, organized in 1584 and officially founded the following year under the patronage of Pope Gregory XIII. This society was the forerunner of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

There is no evidence that the Mass was written for the Compagnia, although it is tempting to speculate. Stylistically, the Mass belongs to the end of the sixteenth century, with several of the composers writing for three choirs, and, as Palestrina contributed the opening movement of the Gloria, it must have been written before his death in 1594. The fact that there seems to be no other example of a Mass written as it were by committee suggests that it may have been designed for a particular event. Could it be that the Mass was written to celebrate the establishment of the Compagnia in 1585? Certainly there is a later example of composers from the Confraternity collaborating together, when Felice Anerio (maestro of the Compagnia in 1589) organized works by various composers into a volume entitled La Gioie. Could Anerio have had a hand in bringing the composers together?

The Mass has a number of odd features. The setting of the ‘Domine Deus’ in the Gloria has no composer ascribed to it in any of the sources. It has been suggested that it might be the work of Palestrina (who wrote the preceding section) but this seems unlikely on stylistic grounds. Then there is the bizarre state of the Sanctus. Prospero Santini composed an impressive opening section but his setting stops after the words ‘Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua’ and there is no setting of the Hosanna nor of the Benedictus in any of the three extant sources. In addition to this, one source contains a second Sanctus by Curzio Mancini (less successful than the one recorded here) but this also stops at the same place as Santini’s setting. Perhaps one of the composers missed a deadline, or was another composer invited to contribute but failed to do so? Less unusual is the short Agnus Dei by Mancini which has only one invocation, using the words ‘miserere nobis’. Certain institutions such as St John Lateran traditionally did not include the ‘dona nobis pacem’ in their liturgy and this practice may have been repeated elsewhere.

Annibale Stabile (c1535–1595) was the writer of the first section of the Kyrie, the first section of the Credo and the ‘Crucifixus’, and as such is the most prominent composer in the piece. He described himself as a pupil of Palestrina and spent most of his life in Rome where he was maestro at S Giovanni in Laterano (1575–1578), then at the German College (1578–1590) and finally at S Maria Maggiore (1591–1594). From February 1595 until his death he was in the service of King Sigismund III of Poland and died in Cracow.The ‘Christe’ section was set by Francesco Soriano (1548/9–1621) as was ‘Et ascendit’ from the Credo. A chorister under Palestrina at S Giovanni in Laterano, Soriano became a priest in 1574 and was maestro at S Luigi dei Francesi in Rome from 1570. He was dismissed from this post in 1581 (his too frequent absences being cited as the main problem) and subsequently moved to Mantua where he served as maestro from 1581 to 1586 (interestingly there was an attempt to remove him from this post also in 1583). The remainder of his career saw a return to Rome and employment at the three major foundations: S Maria Maggiore (1586–1589, part of 1595 and 1601–1603); S Giovanni in Laterano (1599–1601) and the Cappella Giulia (1603–1620).
Two sections were contributed by Giovanni Andrea Dragoni (c1540–1598)—the final portions of the Kyrie and the Gloria. In a dedication of 1575 he pays tribute to the education he received from Palestrina and his entire life was centred on Rome where he was maestro at S Giovanni in Laterano from 1576 until his death in 1598. Much of his music was in the Lateran library but has subsequently been lost.

Ruggiero Giovannelli (c1560–1625) provided music for the culmination of the Credo and he may also have been a pupil of Palestrina (although there is no definite evidence for this). He became maestro at S Luigi dei Francesi in 1583 and from 1587 also directed the music at the English College. From 1591 to 1594 he served as maestro at the German College. In 1589 he was in charge of music for the Oratorio della SS Trinità dei Pellegrini and at some time entered the service of Duke Giovanni Angelo Altemps (the patron of Felice Anerio). In 1594 he succeeded Palestrina as maestro at the Cappella Giulia but resigned this post in 1599 when he joined the Sistine Chapel Choir as a singer. He served as secretary of the Cappella Sistina in 1607, treasurer from 1610 to 1613 and was elected maestro in 1614. He retired on 7 April 1624.

The incomplete Sanctus is in a setting by the little known Prospero Santini (fl1591–1614). Thus far history has given us neither a birth nor a death date. He was maestro di cappella of the Congregazione dei Preti dell’ Oratorio and principally a composer of laude and canzonette spirituale.

Curzio Mancini (c1553–after 1611) was the composer of the Agnus Dei. He was a chorister at S Giovanni in Laterano until February 1567 and may therefore have spent a little time studying with Palestrina. In 1576 he organized the Holy Week music for the Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome and did the same for the major feasts between February 1577 and March 1579 at SS Trinità dei Pellegrini. From 1589 to 1591 he was maestro at S Maria Maggiore (in succession to Soriano) and from June 1592 to May 1593 was maestro at Santa Casa, Loreto. He must have been adept at large-scale organization as in 1596 he put together the splendid Corpus Christi celebrations at the Confraternity of San Rocco and from June 1601 to October 1603 he was maestro at S Giovanni in Laterano. He returned to Loreto in October 1603 and then again to S Giovanni from 1608 until June 1611: nothing more is known of his biography.

If Felice Anerio (c1560–1614) was involved in drawing together the Missa Cantantibus organis for the Compagnia, he was exceptionally modest in not including any of his own music. He was successively a choirboy at S Maria Maggiore and at St Peter’s (under Palestrina). Service at various Roman churches followed, including spells as maestro at the Spanish S Maria di Monserrato and the English College, before he was appointed composer to the Papal Chapel on the death of Palestrina in 1594. In the early 1600s Anerio acted as maestro to Duke Giovanni Angelo Altemps, and it was in this aristocrat’s library that one of the sources of the Missa Cantantibus organis was discovered, perhaps strengthening the case that Anerio was somehow involved in its creation.

Anerio’s setting of the Salve regina contrasts a high choir with a low one, something unusual in Roman double-choir music and more reminiscent of Venetian compositions of the period. The restrained setting matches well the imploring mood of the text while Anerio relies for expression on the sharpening of thirds and the juxtaposition of major and minor harmonies, something which underlines the poignancy of the words.

The remainder of the music on this disc is either written by or inspired by Gregorio Allegri (1582–1652). His early training was as a singer at S Luigi dei Francesi and his first position as maestro was at Santo Spirito in Sassio, Rome. On 6 December 1629 he joined the Papal Choir and was elected maestro di cappella just two years before his death.

There are two sets of Lamentations by Allegri in the Sistine Chapel Archives, both scored modestly for four voices. The Holy Saturday setting is the most restrained. A standard SATB choir articulates the words with clarity and simplicity but Allegri does allow himself the occasional gesture, the odd chromaticism or harmonic shift, and so shows his true character. The setting of the first Lamentation on Maundy Thursday is more adventurous and is scored for an SSAT ensemble which allows Allegri to enjoy the possibilities of suspensions between the two upper parts, especially at the words ‘Plorans ploravit in nocte’.

The meditation on the Eucharist Gustate et videte shows yet another new direction for late-Renaissance writers with its use of basso continuo and a selection of verses for duos and a trio. It is also unusual in that it uses a refrain. The various texts are drawn from a variety of sources: Isaiah 60: 16, a variant of Genesis 49: 20, a versicle and response from the service of Benediction and the Introit from Corpus Christi. The motet concludes with a rousing coda mixing words from Proverbs (used as a Tract for Corpus Christi) with an invitation to become spiritually over-full or ‘drunk’ (‘inebriamini’) with the sacramental blood of Christ.

The piece known as ‘Allegri’s Miserere’, a setting for nine voices of Psalm 51, has a bizarre history. It is highly unlikely that the widely accepted twenty-first-century version was ever written down by the composer and it has come into being as a result of a number of factors. Allegri wrote a relatively restrained setting of the words of Psalm 51 and his singers would have been expected to adorn his original with ornaments and embellishments, probably getting more florid as the piece went along. The setting was traditionally sung during the Holy Week services in the Sistine Chapel until the 1870s, and the ornaments used by the singers to decorate Allegri’s original were famously not written down but passed from generation to generation. Various attempts were made by prelates, noblemen and musicians (including Leopold I, Padre Martini, Mozart, Burney and Mendelssohn) to procure a ‘correct’ version of the piece. The versions which these people heard or saw or published served only to confuse the issue. There was no reliable ‘urtext’ edition on which to draw and it was only with the gradual rediscovery of various sources and manuscripts that a version in Latin with Allegri’s original and a single set of ornaments for the soloists together with interpolated plainsong verses was produced by the late Dr George Guest at St John’s College, Cambridge in the late 1970s. Since then, regular performances of the Miserere in English cathedrals and chapels have firmly cemented the piece as an essential part of our musical heritage.

Regardless of its authenticity (if such a thing can be said to exist) the magic of the piece relies on the juxtaposition of the original falsobordone written by Allegri with the ornaments or abbellimenti added in the solo writing and the plangent tones of the plainsong verses (sung to the chant ‘Tonus Peregrinus’ which is quoted in the topmost voice of Allegri’s original). The biggest debate rages about the famous high ‘C’. It can be said with some certainty that a composer of Allegri’s generation and education would be highly unlikely to write the ungainly interval of an augmented fourth in the bass part in the solo section. Yet only with this interval does the top ‘C’ become possible and the top ‘C’ is now the sine qua non for the listener! Contemporary taste and bravura must have played a part in the ornaments that singers chose to use when improvising in the Papal Chapel and the ornaments heard by the young Mozart could have been a world away from the version sung by Allegri’s own choir in the early seventeenth century. Perhaps they found a way of embellishing up to top ‘C’ without the unacceptable harmonic shift, a shift which although ‘breaking the rules’ sounds to our modern ears unremarkable.

Andrew Carwood © 2011

Missa Cantantibus organis

A Twelve-Part Mass by seven composers: Giovanni Andrea Dragoni, Ruggiero Giovannelli, Curzio Mancini, Giovanni Palestrina, Prospero Santini, Francesco Soriano and Annibale Stabile

Allegri: 

De lamentatione Jeremiae prophetae

Miserere mei, Deus

Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae

Gustate et Videte

Anerio, F:

Salve regina

Palestrina:

Cantantibus organis

II. Tallis: Lamentations (Hyperion CD CDA 68121).

Tallis: Lamentations and Other Sacred Music

When researching English music of the sixteenth century, too often work is hampered by lack of biographical detail, sometimes even by lack of the music itself. There is also scant information about the performance of particular pieces on particular occasions. Unlike the modern age when cathedrals publish and preserve the list of music sung each day, sixteenth-century records rarely, if ever, refer to specific pieces. Typical of this is the account from the Grey Friars in London describing Queen Mary’s triumphant entry into the capital in 1553. The singing of a particular text is mentioned but nothing more:
Item the xix. day of the same monyth … And from thens cam to Powlles alle, and there the qwere sange Te Deum with the organs goynge, with the belles ryngynge …
With so little information we cannot be sure why and when pieces were written or performed. So, quite why composers started to set words from the Lamentations of Jeremiah in Latin in the mid-sixteenth century is unclear. Certainly they had to strike out in new directions. They had to move away from the Mass, Magnificat and Antiphon compositions which had dominated the years of Henry VII and the early years of Henry VIII. Edward VI’s Protestant regime had no need for music in Latin but Mary encouraged it as a sign of her re-unification with Rome. Queen Elizabeth I seemed content with music in both Latin and English. There are ten Lamentations settings from composers working in England in the mid-sixteenth century and, although there is a Continental tradition which pre-dates them, these are the first English examples. All of them have an opening section which states from where the words are taken, and all of them use the Hebrew letters which are printed in the Bible at the beginning of each verse. Each setting (except one) also concludes with the phrase ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum’ (‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’). This is exactly how they are required to be sung during the Holy Week Tenebrae services in the Catholic rite and the obvious conclusion therefore is that they were written for the reign of Queen Mary. However there are difficulties with this assumption.

Two settings by Robert White are written in a style which seems to hearken back to the pre-Reformation, including the use of the high treble voice, but there are moments when he seems to use a more modern style. Thomas Tallis and Osbert Parsley both use a lower scoring but both appear to be in a style more in vogue during the reign of Elizabeth in the 1560s rather than under Mary in the 1550s. All three composers use texts in accordance with the liturgical requirements. William Byrd also uses the lower-voice scoring but makes changes to the text; his setting is clearly a product of his early years. Indeed there is some suggestion that he wrote it under the tutelage of Tallis and so it is unlikely to date from before 1560. John Mundy provides the latest setting (published in 1585). He is the most unconventional of all them, using some verses from outside the Book of Lamentations and omitting the final exhortation. There are also four sets by Elizabeth’s Italian spy-composer Alfonso Ferrabosco, all in a Continental style, efficient and consistent in their use of voices and text setting.

Tallis’ settings seem stylistically to fit better with his other music for Elizabeth than with his music for Mary as they are like the finest chamber music. He has taken Archbishop Cranmer’s edict about one note for each syllable to heart and this leads to a rhetorical style which communicates the text clearly and with great power (although Tallis allows himself a greater expansiveness in the Hebrew letters). He creates some wonderful effects: pathos at ‘Plorans ploravit’, indignation at ‘virgines eius squalidae’ and ravishing beauty at many of the Hebrew letters.

It seems more likely that these composers were writing during the reign of Elizabeth. Perhaps they were simply drawn to the sad nature of the text. Perhaps this was a secret code to communicate Catholic sympathies—it seems likely, certainly in the mid-period works of Byrd, that the deserted city of Jerusalem was a metaphor for England deprived of its Catholic faith. Or perhaps it was composers paying compliments to each other, emulating ideas and developing them further. In any case these settings provide a fascinating topic for discussion about what might have been going on in the mind of the mid-century composers, especially those like Tallis who had been required to alter their compositional style but who had not changed their religious allegiance.

We are still unsure as to the exact date of Tallis’ birth—no records have yet come to light—but so complete is his understanding of the pre-Reformation style that he must have been born in time fully to experience and assimilate it, hence placing his birth around 1505. The first official record we have describes him as organist of the very modest Benedictine Priory of Dover in 1532. By 1537 he had come to London and found employment at the church of St Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate, but in 1538 he moved again, this time to the Augustinian Abbey at Waltham in Essex. This proved to be something of a mistake. Henry’s systematic suppression of the monasteries began in earnest in 1536 (Dover Priory was an even earlier casualty in 1535) and ended in 1540 when Waltham Abbey was the last to be dissolved. Tallis found himself with neither job nor pension but quickly re-surfaced as a singing man in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral. In 1544, Tallis’ name is found on the lay subsidy roll for the sovereign’s private chapel, the Chapel Royal; he is presumed to have returned to London sometime after 1542.

Tallis married his wife, Joan, in or around 1552 and in 1557 was granted a twenty-one-year joint lease on a manor in Minster near Thanet in Kent by Queen Mary. In 1572 Tallis and his younger colleague William Byrd (1539/40–1623) petitioned Elizabeth for financial assistance and she responded by granting them a twenty-one-year monopoly on the printing and publishing of music. The Cantiones sacrae of 1575 was their only foray into the commercial world of publishing. Today it is appreciated as a fine collection of motets but at the time it quickly proved a financial disaster and led to a further petition for funds from the Queen in 1577. Tallis’ connection with the Chapel Royal remained throughout his life and he undoubtedly would have filled a variety of roles as composer, teacher, organist and singer. He died around 20 November 1585 and was buried in the Church of St Alphege in Greenwich.

Sancte Deus is certainly the earliest piece included here. It belongs to the reign of Henry VIII and bears a striking resemblance to a piece of the same name by Philip van Wilder, one of Henry’s favourite composers. It has an unusual scoring where the voice parts are required to do unusual things—the bass part sounding above the tenor part from time to time and the contratenor being almost as high as the triplex on occasion. Its text, in honour of Christ, suggests a piece of the late 1530s or early 1540s when devotion to Mary was being discouraged. Rather like an older Marian Antiphon it is in several sections but each section (and the whole piece indeed) is much shorter. Tallis makes use of fermata most usually associated with the mention of the name of Christ but not used for that purpose here. It also has a gloriously extended final Amen reminiscent of the tradition of dramatic conclusions to the more expansive Antiphons.

The Te Deum ‘for meanes’ is difficult to ascribe to a particular period. It is thought by some to belong to the 1540s and this is perfectly possible, although it is on a grander scale than the ‘Dorian’ Service thought to date from Edward VI’s reign (1547–1553). It is scored for five voices and then has divisions for the two sides of the choir (Decani and Cantoris) to work in dialogue with each other. Its length and occasional use of imitative style may well suggest that it belongs to the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, but as the only surviving sources for this piece are from the seventeenth century it is difficult to be sure.

The Communion settings from Tallis’ Short Service (also called his ‘Dorian’ or ‘First’ Service) are a good example of the sort of music that Edward VI expected from his composers. They are rigorously syllabic and homophonic and must have been quite a shock to those used to the expansive and lengthy settings written by Robert Fayrfax, Nicholas Ludford and John Taverner. They are scored for four voices, with the two sides of the choir in dialogue, and display a cool restraint throughout with an austere beauty. The movements are presented in the order required by the 1552 Book of Common Prayer with the Gloria at the end of the service. It is clear that Tallis is writing more for the 1552 model than the 1549 version as he includes the Responses to the Commandments and omits the Benedictus. The brief Offertory sentence Not every one that saith unto me is not officially part of the ‘Dorian’ Service and survives only in the Chirk Castle Partbooks, but it fits well into this sequence: liturgically it is an option in the 1549 Prayer Book but not in the 1552. It is possible that Tallis had to change direction very quickly indeed during this period!

Three pieces recorded here fit with Mary’s restored Catholic rite. The Hymn Solemnis urgebat dies (‘Iam Christus astra ascenderat’) for the Feast of Pentecost uses its plainsong melody for the odd verses set against polyphony for the even ones. A gently decorated form of the chant is quoted in full in the soprano part whilst underneath is an undulating set of lower parts which employ homophony often slightly at variance with the top part, something which gives a constant sense of forward momentum. Of the two Responds, In pace, in idipsum is for the late night Office of Compline and Dum transisset Sabbatum is for Easter Day. They follow a different repeating structure: A1 A2 – B – A2 – C – A1 A2 in the case of In pace and A1 A2 A3 – B – A2 A3 – C – A3 for Dum transisset. In pace quotes the chant only occasionally in the polyphony whereas Dum transisset uses it in the top part throughout.

Three pieces definitely belong to the reign of Elizabeth. Two are found alongside Archbishop Parker’s metrical translation of the Psalms into English and published by John Day in 1567. Why brag’st in malice high is a setting of Psalm 52 whilst Come, Holy Ghost (or Tallis’ ‘Ordinal’ as it is commonly called) is a beautiful setting of the Veni Creator used during ordination ceremonies and at Whitsun. The third, a setting of Salvator mundi, was published in the 1575 Cantiones sacrae, the joint venture with William Byrd and the attempt to make a significant statement on the health and quality of music in England. It is placed first in the collection, as befits Tallis’ senior position and the exquisite nature of the piece. It begins in imitative fashion, with the superius and contratenor in canon at the octave, but quickly moves into a style which is more free and more expressive.

Lamentations of Jeremiah I & II

In pace in idipsum

Short Service (Dorian) for 4 voices

Not every one that saith unto me

Solemnis urgebat dies

Sancte Deus

Dum transisset sabbatum

Why brag'st in malice

Salvator mundi, salva nos 1 - antiphonn for five voices

Te Deum

Veni creator: Come Holy Ghost

III. Tallis—Spem in alium (Hyperion CD CDA 68156).


The first question has to be—how did he compose it? There are no fragments of Spem in alium left to us, no scribblings or crossings out, no notes. How did he remember what he had written, how did he correct it? Did he have a full score? The answer at the moment is—we do not know and academics will have to dig deeper, but in the meantime we simply have to enjoy and admire the harmonic richness, melodic revelry, dramatic flow and architectural scheme which Tallis produced.
Spem in alium is written for eight choirs of five voices arranged in an SATBarB line-up. The piece opens with choir 1 (on the left) and moves through each choir in order down to choir 8 (on the right). At bar 40 he allows all forty voices to sound together for the first time before starting with choir 8 and then sweeping all the way back up to choir 1. There then follow several sections where the choirs work in dialogue, throwing the same material from one side to the other in a manner often coloured by imaginative melodic turns in varying voice-parts and punctuated by massive chords for all voices.

The text is a Responsory in the Sarum Rite set to be sung in response to a reading from the Book of Judith in the month of September. It is a prayer for deliverance from the siege which the enemy general Holofernes has laid to the Jewish people of Bethulia. The widow, Judith, saves the situation by making Holofernes drunk, seducing and then beheading him. The Sarum Rite was not in force when Tallis wrote his masterpiece and it is not clear why this text was chosen.

Various ideas have been put forward about why Tallis wrote such a massive piece. The discovery of a manuscript in the hand of Thomas Wateridge suggests there may have been a competitive reason for its composition:

In Queene Elizabeths time there was a songe sent into England of 30 parts (whence the Italians obteyned the name to be called Apices of the world) which beeinge songe made a heavenly Harmony. The Duke of ____ bearinge a great love to Musicke asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe, & Tallice beinge very skillfull was felt to try whether he could undertake the Matter, which he did and made one of 40 parts which was songe in the longe gallery at Arundel house which so farre surpassed the other that the Duke hearinge of it songe, took his chayne of Gold from of his necke and putt yt about Tallice his necke and gave yt him (whiche songe was againe songe at the Princes coronation).
This story, told to Wateridge in 1611, probably refers to the visit of Alessandro Striggio (c1536/7–1592) to London in 1567 when one of his forty-part pieces was performed. Wateridge, or his story-teller, has obviously mis-remembered Striggio’s original or is trying to enhance Tallis’ achievement! If this account is accurate the Duke is most likely Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and the ‘Arundel house’ the home of Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (d1580).

The ‘Princes coronation’ mentioned at the end of this passage was the investiture of Henry, eldest son of James I, as Prince of Wales in 1610 when Spem in alium was sung to a newly written English rhymed text Sing and glorify. It is this version which is the earliest surviving manuscript of the work—the Egerton Manuscript—and it includes the original Latin text but separate from the music. Sing and glorify was used again in 1612 after Henry’s untimely death, this time for Prince Charles (later Charles I). The manuscript shows Henry’s name crossed out and Charles’ written in its place. The English text is quite clever and mostly fits Tallis’ music well, suggesting that the author had a good knowledge of the piece before writing it. It becomes a more celebratory piece and contrasts with the original Latin which is more penitential in nature.

There may be other reasons for Tallis’ choice of forty voices. It is possible that it was written for the fortieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth in 1573 but there may also be a more enigmatic reason: ‘40’ is a symbolic number. The rains with which God destroyed his unruly creation at the time of the flood lasted for forty days (Genesis 7:4); the children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years (Numbers 32:13); Moses remained on Mount Sinai for forty days when he was forty years old (Exodus 24:18); Christ is tempted in the wilderness for forty days (Matthew 4:2); forty days separate the resurrection of Jesus from his ascension (Acts 1:3). There are many more. Interestingly, the siege of Bethulia, brought to a close by Judith’s slaying of Holofernes, is also supposed to have lasted for forty days.

Other number theories can be found when looking at the length of the piece and using the classical Latin alphabet as a code. In modern terms, Spem in alium lasts 138 bars but in the sixteenth century it would have been described as 69 ‘longs’ (a ‘long’ being a double-length bar, or two breves). Using the Latin alphabet of the time, it can clearly be seen that Judith’s name (9 + 20 + 4 + 9 + 19 + 8) equals 69. It is also Tallis’ own number (19 + 1 + 11 + 11 + 9 + 18). And if this is not cryptic enough the number for Mary (Maria) is 40 (12 + 1 + 17 + 9 + 1).

Spem in alium is Tallis’ most astonishing achievement, in a life which continually involved him being inventive and adaptable. We are still unsure as to the exact date of Tallis’ birth—no records have yet come to light—but so complete is his understanding of the pre-Reformation style, he must have been born in time fully to experience and assimilate it, hence placing him around 1505. The first official record we have describes him as organist of the very modest Benedictine Priory of Dover in 1532. By 1537 he had come to London and found employment at the church of St Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate, but in 1538 he moved again, this time to the Augustinian Abbey at Waltham in Essex. This proved to be something of a mistake. Henry’s systematic suppression of the monasteries began in earnest in 1536 (Dover Priory was an even earlier casualty in 1535) and ended in 1540 when Waltham Abbey was the last to be dissolved. Tallis found himself with neither job nor pension but quickly re-surfaced as a singing man in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral. In 1544, Tallis’ name is found on the lay subsidy roll for the sovereign’s private chapel, the Chapel Royal, and he must have returned to London sometime after 1542.

Tallis married his wife, Joan, in or around 1552 and in 1557 was granted a twenty-one-year joint lease on a manor in Minster near Thanet in Kent by Queen Mary. In 1572 Tallis and his younger colleague William Byrd (1539/40–1623) petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for financial assistance and she responded by granting them a twenty-one-year monopoly on the printing and publishing of music. The Cantiones of 1575 was their only foray into the commercial world of publishing. Today it is appreciated as a fine collection of motets but at the time it quickly proved a financial disaster and led to a further petition for funds from the Queen in 1577. Tallis’ connection with the Chapel Royal remained throughout his life and he undoubtedly would have filled a variety of roles as composer, teacher, organist and singer. He died around 20 November 1585 and was buried in the Church of St Alphege in Greenwich.

Tallis was one of the first composers who had to get to grips with writing religious music in English. Before the reign of Edward VI there were a few vernacular devotional works but they were not designed for performance in church services. From the time of the 1549 Prayer Book (and the obvious period of experimentation which must have preceded its publication), the many choirs of England required new pieces so that they could participate fully in the reformed services and maintain some sort of role in the new regime. The high treble part is removed all together—presumably they simply stopped using these boys, or those boys who had been used to sing high now had to sing in their lower register. Each syllable was assigned one note rather than the melismas which had been more common. Music became efficient and directly communicative so that the listener could clearly hear the words which are being sung. The penitential piece Remember not, O Lord God must be one of Tallis’ earliest attempts. Although it is a ‘new’ piece, the sound world is stark and archaic sounding to our modern ears, more so than the sweet flowing lines of Fayrfax, Ludford or Taverner. It uses verses from Psalm 79 as it appeared in the King’s Primer of 1545 where it concludes with the English phrase ‘So be it’ rather than the ‘foreign’ Amen. Purge me, O Lord and Hear the voice and prayer are typical of the music provided for Edward VI’s church, shorter even than Remember not and with the last section repeated in each case. The perfect Verily, verily I say unto you has no repeats and may date from the reign of Elizabeth.

Blessed are those that be undefiled is a setting of the first six verses from Psalm 119, a popular Psalm to set as it deals with instructions about how to live a godly life. It survives in the Ludlow Parish Church partbook and uses Myles Coverdale’s 1535 translation. It is headed with a Latin title, ‘Beati immaculati’, which is normal even for Psalms in translation but this together with the style of writing— where duets for the higher voices alternate with trios for the lower voices (rather in the style of John Taverner’s O Wilhelme, pastor bone or Mater Christi sanctissima) and the use of a high treble part—suggests that this may originally have been set in Latin. It is naive in the best sense of the word and direct. The way to live a good life is simple—follow the precepts of God.

O Lord, in thee is all my trust appears in John Day’s Certaine notes set forth in foure and three partes (1565), a collection of simple music that could be used during services. The text is anonymous but described as suitable for Evensong. It is made up of three verses and is essentially a homophonic, harmonized tune with a throwback to the Edwardian anthem with its repeated last section.

In his Short Service (also called his ‘First’ or ‘Dorian’ Service), Tallis provided settings for Matins, Communion and Evensong. The Evensong sequence is presented here with the second set of Preces and Responses (including the Collect for All Saints Day), three portions of Psalm 119 (Wherewithal shall a young man, O do well unto thy servant and My soul cleaveth to the dust) and the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. This is no historical reconstruction but sets the various movements in a logical order. The music is simple but clearly expressed and pleasingly ordinary, beautifully fitted to the recitation of an Office which was (and still is) sung every day.

This album also features the last ‘Psalm Tune’ from Robert Day’s publication of Matthew Parker’s Psalter dating from 1567. God grant with grace is a simple, magical melody enhanced by some lovely harmonic turns and is sung to Psalm 67. The tune, in the tenor (or baritone) part, is sung first before the harmonies are used for the remaining verses. As usual, Parker headed the Psalm with an English ‘argument’:

The argument
Thys song in all: propheticall
Doth cleare exprese: Christes raigne in flesh
Where beames so bright: did shyne in sight,
That all to come: must prayse his dome.
He completed it with a Collect, or prayer, which is sung here after the Psalm.

Three Latin settings complete this final volume in our survey of Thomas Tallis’ sacred vocal music. Hodie nobis caelorum rex is a simple four-part polyphonic setting made complete by the inclusion of plainsong. The text comes from the Sarum Rite for Christmas Day when the rubric requires the polyphonic sections to be sung by five boys set at a distance from the main action of the liturgy. Tallis’ setting is only for four voices and is printed at a pitch suitable for men’s voices. It is here performed by mixed voices—such a transposition being entirely plausible—as a nod in the direction of the original rubrics and because of the pleasing nature of the combination of voices.

O sacrum convivium, a setting of the Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers on Corpus Christi, may well have started life as an instrumental piece to which words were later added. The exquisite close imitation is reminiscent of instrumental writing but—as with so much music from the sixteenth century—is apt for voices or viols.

In ieiunio et fletu is a penitential text particularly suited to Ash Wednesday, with priests weeping at the altar and pleading for forgiveness for the people. It is printed in the 1575 Cantiones at an extremely low pitch and its use of ledger lines in the bass parts is also unusual (this being something that printers would usually try to avoid). This beautiful piece, performed here a minor third above written pitch, is typical of Tallis’ late style. He has learned lessons from Archbishop Cranmer’s rule about one note for each syllable but writes powerful music with rich harmonic turns and sobbing imitation in the final section. This mature, sophisticated, rhetorical style is peculiar to Tallis and the result of his many years of varied composition, and was possibly the greatest gift he bequeathed to his pupil and friend, William Byrd.

Tallis: In Ieiunio & Fletu :
: Tallis: Blessed Are Those That Be Undefiled :
: Tallis: Purge Me, O Lord :
: Tallis: Spem In Alium :
: Tallis: 9 Psalm Tunes - #8 God Grant With Grace :
: Tallis: Preces & Responses II - 1. O Lord, Open Thou Our Lips :
: Tallis: Wherewithal Shall A Young Man :
: Tallis: O Do Well Unto Thy Servant :
: Tallis: My Soul Cleaveth To The Dust :
: Tallis: Short Service, 'Dorian' - Evening Canticle #1 Magnificat :
: Tallis: Short Service, 'Dorian' - Evening Canticle #2 Nunc Dimittis :
: Tallis: Preces & Responses II - 2. The Lord Be With You :
: Tallis: O Sacrum Convivium :
: Tallis: Remember Not, O Lord God :
: Tallis: Hear The Voice & Prayer :
: Tallis: Verily, Verily I Say Unto You :
: Tallis: O Lord, In Thee Is All My Trust :
: Tallis: Hodie Nobis Caelorum Rex :
: Tallis: Sing & Glorify

Composer Info

Annibale Stabile (c1535–1595), Giovanni Andrea Dragoni (c1540–1598), Ruggiero Giovannelli (c1560–1625), Prospero Santini (fl1591–1614), Curzio Mancini (c1553–after 1611), Felice Anerio (c1560–1614), Gregorio Allegri (1582–1652), Giovanni Palestrina, Thomas Tallis

CD Info

CD CDA 67860, CD CDA 68121, CD CDA 68156