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Hyperion Records

CDA67928 - Tye: Missa Euge bone & Western Wynde Mass
Orb of the world in Christ’s hand (detail from the Westminster Retable).
Copyright © Dean and Chapter of Westminster
CDA67928

Recording details: June 2011
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Summerly
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: May 2012
DISCID: 1B114D14
Total duration: 73 minutes 41 seconds

'For a true celebration of the English high-treble phenomenon one need look no further than this. The amplitude of the basses makes a most wonderful balancing effect with the brightness of the boys and there are great surges of sound that almost lift you out of your seat. Just as you think they've given their all, a super-charged wave of glory takes it all to the next level. Their quiet singing is heavenly, too, and both ends of the dynamic spectrum are sublimely devotional' (Choir & Organ)

'The Gloria of Tye's magnificent Missa Euge bone brings you up short with some startlingly grumpy gestures and intriguing harmonic shifts, but the dark clouds never last long—the closing section of his glorious motet Peccavimus cum patribus nostris, for instance, resolves in an explosion of dazzling polyphony. Westminster Abbey Choir are on brilliant form here, trebles crisp and alert and lay vicars forthright and muscular' (The Observer)

'Immediately one is introduced to Tye's extraordinary sound-world of unusual cadences and rigorous alternation of high and low voices to achieve impressive effects. All of these are carefully allowed to speak for themeselves thanks to the judicious direction of Westminster Abbey's Organist and Master of the Choristers, James O'Donnell' (International Record Review)

Missa Euge bone & Western Wynde Mass

Christopher Tye flourished as a church musician in England during the mid-sixteenth century. A direct contemporary of Thomas Tallis, he held the prestigious post of Master of Choristers at Ely cathedral and successfully managed to compose music for both Protestant and Catholic services during a politically unstable time. Henry VIII was a fan, asserting: ‘England one god, one truth, one doctor hath for music’s art—and that is Dr Tye’ (Tye himself had Protestant leanings).

The composer was also described as ‘peevish and humoursome’, and these qualities are reflected in his remarkably individual music, characterized by unpredictable cadences and phrases of often unexpectedly startling beauty. The two major works on this recording are his masterful Missa Euge bone for six voices, and his Western Wynde Mass, probably an early work, and likely written as a complement to John Taverner’s own Mass based on this secular English song.

The peerless Westminster Abbey Choir directed by James O’Donnell performs these sparsely beautiful a cappella works with customary freshness and sense of grandeur.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Christopher Tye was a direct contemporary of Thomas Tallis—both composers were born in the first decade of the sixteenth century, around the year 1505. Given the high regard in which both men were held during their lifetimes, it is remarkable that no records survive that point to what either Tallis or Tye was doing before the 1530s. From then on, the biographies of both men come into focus: while Tallis worked at Dover Priory and subsequently at Waltham Abbey (both institutions were dissolved while Tallis was in post) and then moved to Canterbury to sing in the cathedral, Tye supplicated for a Cambridge BMus in 1536 and sang as a lay clerk at King’s College. Both composers became well connected at court, both were extremely adept at writing Latin sacred music for the Roman Catholic Church and English-texted music for the reformed Church of England, and both composers were appointed in their late thirties to important posts which they held with aplomb (Tallis was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in London for over forty years, and Tye was Master of the Choristers at Ely Cathedral for twenty). Neither composer concerned himself to any great degree with writing secular vocal music, yet both were actively involved in the composition of instrumental music—Tallis’s focus was keyboard music, while Tye’s preferred soundworld was that of the viol consort. Their religious leanings were, however, different, although both men individually navigated a safe course through the choppy waters of the politics of the mid-sixteenth century. Tallis was a Roman Catholic, who nevertheless managed to work productively for the Church of England during both Edward VI’s and Queen Elizabeth’s reigns, while Tye had clear Protestant leanings, although he contributed fully to Roman Catholic worship during the reign of Queen Mary. But whereas Tallis was described as ‘mild and quiet’, Tye was considered ‘peevish and humoursome’. This resonates within the music of the two composers: where Tallis’s music is generously persuasive, Tye’s music is wilful. The result is that Tye frequently brings the listener up short with bold and uncompromising gestures; but for every startlingly obstinate moment in Tye’s surviving output, there are many more instances of breathtaking beauty. Tye was evidently his own man, and his musical boundaries were clearly defined and plainly drawn. Perhaps this is why another obdurate figure of the period (Henry VIII) is reported to have described Tye in glowing terms: ‘England one god, one truth, one doctor hath for music’s art—and that is Dr Tye.’

This recording brings together a selection of Tye’s sacred music for four, six, and seven voices. Two Masses and two non-liturgical Prayer-Motets in Latin are heard alongside an Offertory Sentence, an Easter Introit, and an Evensong Canticle in English. All of the music is recognizably by the same composer, although the function and effect of each piece is markedly different. An audibly unique feature of Tye’s harmony is the ‘interrupted subdominant cadence’, and it occurs on this recording no fewer than ten times (the interrupted subdominant cadence is not to be confused with the more common ‘English cadence’ which occurs in the music of many Tudor and Jacobean composers and even flowed from the pens of certain Continental composers of the day). The interrupted subdominant cadence is approached via the dominant chord (V) but, rather than resolving conventionally to the tonic (I), falls unexpectedly to the subdominant (IV). The result is that no single cadence in Tye’s Latin music (with the exception of a piece’s final cadence) can be predicted with certainty. This is ‘peevish and humoursome’ music, to be sure, but music that is as compellingly artful as that written by any Renaissance composer, or indeed by any English composer from any period.

Quaesumus omnipotens et misericors Deus is ostensibly for six voices, although there is no point at which six voices are deployed simultaneously. Moreover, the fifth voice down (baritone in modern parlance) is missing from the only source (a set of partbooks copied around the time of Tye’s death) and therefore requires reconstruction (here by Nigel Davison in 1987). It is a paraliturgical motet whose text was adapted from a prayer for Henry VII (the revised prayer is tendered on behalf of ‘thy family’ rather than specifically for the King). From the outset, the alternation of high and low voices with their muscularly close internal imitation announces that this is music by Christopher Tye; indeed the motet provides a measurable amount of musical material for the Missa Euge bone. English cadences at the words ‘in terris’ and ‘gratiosi’, along with Tye’s trademark interrupted subdominant cadence at the word ‘devitata’, lend fervour and directness to this Latin work which was, unusually, written during King Edward VI’s reign (1547–1553). Tye gave music lessons to Edward VI (Henry VII’s grandson), and the fact that the text had originally been designed as an intercession for the young King’s grandfather goes some way towards explaining the composition and tolerance of Tye’s Latin motet in rampantly Protestant times.

The Missa Euge bone is Tye’s masterpiece, and for that reason it has been suggested that this six-voice work was Tye’s doctoral submission to Cambridge University in 1545. However, it is just as likely that the Mass dates from Queen Mary’s reign (1553–1558) and that it was composed shortly after the motet Quaesumus omnipotens et misericors Deus, on which the Mass is partly based. The alternation of high and low voices throughout the Mass derives from the opening textures of the motet, and the first interrupted subdominant cadence occurs within a minute of the start of the Gloria in the three lower voices. The English cadence at ‘Agnus Dei’ introduces a jubilant section of stretto imitation at the words ‘Filius Patris’, where fifteen beats contain fourteen stretto entry points. The second, more reflective, section of the Gloria again plays on the antiphonal effect between upper and lower voices, and the interrupted subdominant cadence at ‘altissimus’ introduces magical block-chord homophony at the words ‘Jesu Christe’. The short final section of the Gloria culminates in a major-mode English cadence which leaves the listener dazzled—the entire text of the Gloria has been set expansively and colourfully in under six minutes. This is lean complexity at its best. The Credo is even shorter, although two-fifths of the full Credo text is omitted in order to achieve this. The Credo, like the Gloria, is also in three sections, and much of the material of the Gloria is re-used, although the interrupted subdominant cadence which appears just over a minute after the start of the movement now appears in the transparent upper voices (as it had done in the motet) to blissful effect, and this is followed by a section of sublime polyphony in which Tye’s sustained voice-leading creates a beguiling sense of dynamic stasis. An English cadence towards the end of the first section of the Credo leads into the movement’s central section, which is at first reflective but changes mood as the resurrection is announced. The short final section of the Credo culminates in the same stretto passage that was heard at the end of the Gloria’s opening section. The Sanctus begins with block-chord harmony—six arresting chords to carry the six syllables of the three statements of the opening word. At the word ‘Sabaoth’, the first section ends with another masterly cadence, this time where the dominant harmony seems to prepare for a resolution, but which stays resolutely where it is. The next two sections are for high and low voices respectively. But this time the upper voices appear in four parts rather than three (the treble part divides into two) and create a celestial texture which is answered by the resonantly handled lower four voices in the following section. The Osanna begins with three block chords, and the Sanctus ends with an interrupted subdominant cadence, which heralds the arrival of the Benedictus. The slow and measured procession of the entries of the Benedictus theme is inexorably satisfying, and once the last voice to enter (the lowest) has stated the theme, the section stops, at which point the boisterous Osanna surprises because it does not begin with block chords. The Agnus Dei is—uniquely for the period—set four times. The first Agnus Dei alternates high and low voices and then brings all six voices together for an extended span of stretto imitation: nineteen entries over thirty beats. The second Agnus Dei, scored for the four lower voices, passes through colourful submediant harmony to end with Tye’s most effective interrupted subdominant cadence of all. The third Agnus Dei creates an engaging five-voice texture by splitting both of the top voice parts into two, and underpins them with a fluid baritone line which ends with a melodic ostinato that states itself almost four complete times before seamlessly veering off to create the closing cadence. That the upper lines present themselves as a strict four-voice canon is astonishing given the delicate aural beauty of this section. The final Agnus Dei begins with commanding homophony which leads to a closing section where one final interrupted subdominant cadence ushers in the closing bars of this phenomenal work. The title of the Mass—‘Well done, good [servant]’—seems to relate to the Parable of the Talents in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, yet there is no convincing explanation for it. It will do, however, as an accolade to Tye’s accomplishment as composer of this iconic piece.

Give almes of thy goods is a pithy setting of an Offertory Sentence, which appeared in both the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer. This is an Edwardine creation in every way. Constructed in the ABB form of the early English anthem, this four-voice piece lasts for under two minutes and is entirely syllabic.

Christ rising is a six-voice setting of the Easter Anthems. The text belongs to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, where it was ritually substituted for the Venite during Matins on Easter Day. The lowest partbook of the only (early seventeenth-century) source of this piece has been lost and requires reconstruction (here by John Langdon in 1970). The harmonic language is bold and frequently dissonant. The English cadence at the words ‘of the dead’ is one of the more gentle of the piece’s many dissonances. The augmented chord and subsequent simultaneous false relation used to paint the words ‘For seeing that by man came death’ might, on their own, be found expressive and tolerable, but the other fourteen instances of the simultaneous false relation (and three other non-simultaneous ones) make this piece acoustically disturbing (most notably so at the words ‘For as by Adam all men do die’). Each occurrence of the false relation is justifiable in terms of micro word-painting, and the brilliantly conceived contrasting consonant ending does justice to the words ‘restored to life’, but the overall effect is brash in the extreme. Perhaps it was this aspect of Tye’s stylistic dogma that so agitated Elizabeth I: ‘Sometimes playing on the organ in the chapel of Queen Elizabeth, which contained much music, but little delight to the ear, she would send the verger to tell him he played out of tune; whereupon he sent word that her ears were out of tune.’

Peccavimus cum patribus nostris is a Prayer-Motet which also bears classification as a Votive Antiphon, specifically a Jesus Antiphon by virtue of the words at the end of the first section. The cadence at the mention of the name of Jesus is heartfelt. The ear is prepared for a plagal cadence (IV–I), but instead the musical canvas is, without warning, illuminated with the colours of the supertonic (II). That the piece is scored for seven voices suggests that it dates from the reign of Queen Mary, and it certainly bears comparison with the other large-scale antiphons written during Mary’s reign by the likes of Tallis, Sheppard, and Mundy. Indeed Peccavimus cum patribus nostris surpasses even the work of Tye’s contemporaries because of its organic growth and purposeful progression. The two extended sections for four voices, and another for three voices, do more than offer textural contrast: they manipulate the listener (and indeed performer) into adopting Tye’s resolute mindset which dictates that the composition exists solely to prepare—on a vast scale—for the arrival of its climax, where all good things (‘holy love, hatred of sin, and a burning desire for the heavenly kingdom’) ‘grow more and more’. In literal terms this piece is a romantic symphony: romantic because its narrative qualities are manifest, and symphonic because polyphonic lines have rarely sounded together so effectively.

Tye’s Western Wynde Mass is one of three surviving English Masses based on the same monophonic song (the other two are by John Taverner and John Sheppard). The song’s avowedly secular text (‘Western wind, when wilt thou blow? The small rain down can rain, Christ, if my love were in my arms, and I in my bed again!’) is exactly the kind of Mass model that The Council of Trent found inappropriate at its debates concerning sacred music in the early 1560s. It is not certain which of the three Western Wynde Masses appeared first, although it would not have been Sheppard’s. Tye’s setting clearly complements Taverner’s, and it is generally assumed that Taverner’s Mass was the original. Where Taverner’s cantus firmus migrates between three of the four voice parts, Tye presents the melody exclusively in the alto part—the very one that Taverner chose not to use. And Taverner’s fivefold ascending melodic ostinato in the bass part of the opening of the Sanctus is matched by a sixfold descending melodic ostinato in the bass part of Tye’s Sanctus (both encompassing exactly the same range of a tenth). Both settings were written in the second half of King Henry VIII’s reign, and Tye’s setting contains some decidedly antique devices, which makes it possible (though far from probable) that Tye’s setting was chronologically the earlier. Among these devices is the late-medieval cadential formula at the end of the Osanna to the Sanctus, where the bass part leaps up an octave to arrive above the tenor, the first-inversion phrase ending at ‘miserere nobis’ in the Gloria, and the busily syncopated writing at the ‘qui venit’ section of the Benedictus which is reminiscent of the style of the late-fifteenth-century Eton Choirbook. But Tye’s interrupted subdominant cadence makes three appearances (to indicate the end of the bass ostinato in the Sanctus, at ‘gloria tua’ in the Sanctus, and halfway through the third and final Agnus Dei)—an indication that Tye had, by this stage, formulated his own modus operandi. The English cadence also makes two appearances (at ‘unigenitum’ in the Credo, and at ‘peccata mundi’ in Agnus Dei II), and a unique submediant cadence (in later classical harmony the archetypal form of interrupted cadence) colours the end of the Benedictus before the start of its Osanna. The Western Wynde Mass is probably the earliest music included on this recording, but it nevertheless bears all the hallmarks of the mature Tye.

The English text of the Nunc dimittis is non-standard: it has features in common with versions from 1535 and 1539, and the musical setting predates the award of Tye’s doctorate in 1545. This canticle would seem to date from Tye’s Cambridge years, when the composer first fell under the influence of the Protestant reformer Richard Cox (later Archdeacon of Ely Cathedral and responsible for Tye’s appointment as Master of the Choristers there). The pervasive, almost self-conscious, use of imitation shows the influence of the modern Continental style, but the harmonic idiom and the manner of text-setting are quintessentially English.

Jeremy Summerly © 2012


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