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Hyperion Records

CDD22022 - Sheppard: Western Wynde Mass & other sacred music

Recording details: Various dates
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: March 1997
Total duration: 124 minutes 58 seconds

'The Sixteen's beautifully poised opposition of elegant plainsong and opulent counterpoint eloquently illuminates this repertoire's satisfying formal balance' (BBC Music Magazine)

Western Wynde Mass & other sacred music
Te Deum  [13'48] LatinEnglish
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Little is known for certain of Sheppard’s life other than that he was appointed informator choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1543, and that he was a Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal in the 1550s. Although his name appears on the lists of those present at the coronation of Elizabeth I in 1559 he was in fact buried in St Margaret’s, Westminster, on 21 December the previous year. His date of birth is presumed to have been around 1515, for in his supplication for the degree of DMus in 1554 he is described as having studied music for twenty years.

His music is characterized by a punchy contrapuntal style in which the simplicity of points of imitation allows him to get the voices in very quickly; for example in Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria all six voices join within four beats, giving an impression of contrapuntal imitation even though not all entries are entirely imitative. Elsewhere his contrapuntal technique is even more interesting: at ‘Media nocte’ in Audivi vocem de coelo the four voices enter on succeeding pitches of the scale, down a seventh or up a ninth from the previous entry, a technique found also in a passage from Tye’s ‘Euge bone’ Mass but otherwise most unusual (and very clever) for the time (and in Sheppard’s case it is based on the plainsong). Since all the voices are so quickly in, it follows that the sound is very full; when a voice does break off before a new point of imitation it does so only very briefly and resumes without more ado. The urgency achieved as a result is marked.

The many Responds on these discs normally follow the traditional method of setting the soloist’s sections of the original plainsong to polyphony and leaving the chorus sections without polyphony, thus achieving alternation of plainsong and polyphony, the polyphony becoming shorter on each appearance.

Flexibility of scoring is much more common in the Hymns. Sancte Dei pretiose is for choir without trebles (like Impetum fecerunt) and is written on the faburden in the bass (a faburden is a tune derived from the plainsong by a contemporary improvisatory technique in which three parts were achieved spontaneously by singing more or less in parallel with the plainsong; in Libera nos, salva nos II we again find that the cantus firmus, in the bass, is the faburden).

There is more than a hint of the friendly emulation that was an important feature of the medieval and renaissance composer’s attitude towards his fellow-composers. ‘The Western Wynde’ Mass is directly comparable with the settings by Taverner and Tye; all three are for modest four-part choir. While Taverner allows the ‘Western Wynde’ tune to migrate quite freely between the voices, several times as the bass of the texture, and Tye anchors it firmly in the Mean at all times, thereby however setting himself interesting harmonic problems, Sheppard treats it less imaginatively, but in a more modern manner, by placing it at the top of his texture (i.e. treating it as a melody with harmony underneath) for nearly every statement. In the final section of the Agnus Dei the tune briefly appears as the lowest part and then becomes the basis of a point of imitation. The ‘Western Wynde’ tune is obviously of secular origin, which is rare but not unique in the English mass repertoire, and Sheppard despatches it with typical expedition, stating it only 24 times (compared with Taverner’s 36 and Tye’s 29) and cutting it short on ten occasions (compared with Taverner’s four times and Tye’s three times). The three settings are copied in succession (Taverner, Tye, Sheppard, in order of seniority) in the Gyffard partbooks, emphasizing again the comparability which was felt even at the time.

Emulation of Taverner is found also in the Te Deum, which uses exactly the same plainsong cantus firmus in the Tenor. Indeed, Taverner’s Te Deum is so unlike his other works and shares such marked similarities with that of Sheppard that it is even possible that both are by Sheppard. Strictly speaking the Te Deum is a hymn, but by the mid-sixteenth century in England it had become more like a canticle and was frequently used on occasions of general rejoicing or at the end of sermons: ‘His sermon being ended, ‘Te Deum’ was sung; and solemn procession was made of ‘Salve festa dies’ all the circuit of the church’ (Stowe Annales, referring to a service blessing Mary’s (supposed) pregnancy in 1553).

Although one of the aims of the English Reformation was to make the liturgy better understood, the type of injunction to composers best exemplified by the Lincoln Cathedral Injunctions of April 1548 (‘setting thereunto a plain and distinct note for every syllable one’) was only partly effective, for the church authorities found it necessary to keep admonishing the musicians for much of the remainder of the century, while the surviving music clearly spends much of its time, especially towards the ends of phrases, having ‘a complex and contrapuntal note for every syllable several’. It is very difficult to date Sheppard’s Second Service. Its text is partly from the 1549 Prayer Book, which may suggest a date between then and 1552, when the Second Prayer Book was issued. On the other hand, the contrast with his First Service, which does seem to date from this period, is marked. Whereas in his First Service Sheppard confines himself to four-part texture and alternation between the two sides of the choir, Decani and Cantoris, his Full texture in the Second Service is in five parts, dropping to four only when the two sides are alternating but then achieving up to eight real parts by considerable dovetailing, having one side of the choir continuing its phrase after the other has commenced the next. The assured word-setting, with its characteristic capture of the internal rhythms of the text, if necessary at the expense of the strong beats, is also indicative of the increasing confidence with which he and his generation approached the vernacular.

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