Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDGIM210 - The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Church Music, Vol. 2
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger (c1497-1543)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Salle Church, Norfolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Steve C Smith & Peter Phillips
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: November 2008
Total duration: 153 minutes 1 seconds

The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Church Music, Vol. 2

"Of all the polyphony we have recorded, this early English style with its dazzling high treble parts and luminous sonorities is, for me, as good as it gets. Our pioneering performances of Sheppard and White have shown them to be the equals of Tallis and Byrd." (Peter Phillips)

A specially priced selection of previously issued recordings.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
English sacred music of the sixteenth century has formed the backbone of everything The Tallis Scholars have done, right from the beginning. The original reason why we chose to have ten core singers in the group was because the English composers of this period had developed a choir with five basic voice-ranges, instead of the more normal four, and I had decided that the dazzling sonorities inherent in their writing benefitted from having two singers on each part. This dazzle is emphasized if the music is sung at a high pitch, which led us increasingly to perform with four sopranos – two high and two lower – above two countertenors, two tenors and two basses. Thus was born the classic Tallis Scholars line-up, which later could be adapted to sing much mainland European renaissance music as well. Such a line-up sounds almost inevitable now, but it wasn’t in 1973.

This second volume of The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Church Music brings the story of English sonority to the middle years of the sixteenth century, when the gap between it and what was being written on the continent of Europe was just as wide as in the time of Browne, Cornysh and Taverner who are featured in Volume One. Instead of the densely packed texures of Gombert and Willaert there is the gothic spaciousness of Sheppard. Instead of the relentlessly argued imitative counterpoint of Clemens and Manchicourt there is the fluency and sheer beauty of melody of Tallis and White. Where Palestrina strove to perfect his sound world, Thomas Tallis set about experimenting with every imaginable combination of voices, from the forty in Spem in alium, to the miniature If ye love me, and from the low choir of In ieiunio et fletu (Disc Two Track 1) to the high choir of O salutaris hostia and O nata lux (Disc Two Tracks 2 and 3). This story of the way English sonority developed is amplified and brought to a conclusion in The Tallis Scholars sing Thomas Tallis (which does not contain the three tracks issued here) and The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd.

John Sheppard (c1515–December 1558) ranks as one of the most original, if not wide-ranging, composers to come from Britain. Media vita is his masterpiece, unrivalled for its breadth of phrase and expressive power, summing up everything about Sheppard and the creative world which surrounded him: the high treble part leading to breath-taking sonorities, the doubled altos, the old-fashioned reliance on a chant cantus firmus, the persistent, quirky use of a certain kind of dissonance. This is also the formula which underlies Reges Tharsis and Verbum caro, though worked out more concisely than in Media vita. But take away the treble part and you have Christe Redemptor omnium and In manus tuas I; take away the treble and mean parts and you have In manus tuas II. Early in his career Sheppard must have found a basic method which pleased him, for he rarely adapted it. The only exception here is to be found in Sacris solemniis, where his search for sonority took him into new territory. In this masterpiece he divided the altos, means and trebles to create, with the tenors and basses, an eight-part texture. Apart from his own Libera nos settings I know of no other example of this scoring. Certainly there were plenty of contemporary examples of eight-part writing from Europe – from Crecquillon’s Pater peccavi to Lassus’s double-choir music – but they only point up how different the English were. Lassus, cosmopolitan as he was, would have scarcely been able to believe his ears had he ever heard Media vita or Sacris solemniis.

Sheppard’s Western Wind Mass is the third and last of the three settings based on this melody (the Taverner and Tye are included on The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Church Music Volume One). This is the shortest of them, in number of bars nearly half the length of the Taverner, involving twenty-four repetitions of the melody which are to be found in every part except the mean. This relative brevity can be explained by Sheppard’s musical language, so different from that just discussed. Although there are passages which pay homage to the melismatic, rhythmically complex style of the early sixteenth century, this much more syllabic style must come from near the end of the composer’s life when he, like everyone else, was influenced consciously or unconsciously by the new Protestant ideals of textual clarity. Nor is the brevity without creative impact: each movement has a drive through it which does not characterize either Tye’s or Taverner’s setting.

Robert White (c1538–November 1574) was arguably the leading figure in that lost generation of English composers, including Robert Parsons and William Mundy, which came to maturity between Tallis and Byrd in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. White as it were formed a school within a school, whose musical instincts were to look back to the Catholic style of Tallis’s youth (a style he had missed) while putting that style to the service of Elizabeth I’s Protestant Church. The result is a fascinating hybrid: the lines unwind slowly, much of the old sonority is still there, the cadences in particular can sound deliciously archaic. Yet the expressive power is more modern, more direct. There is no more thrilling example of that power than in the ‘Amen’ of Exaudiat te Dominus.

The six-voice Magnificat is the most archaic-sounding of the pieces included here, making use of Taverner’s choir of treble, mean, two countertenors, tenor and bass, and even dividing into a triple gimell (divided trebles, means and basses) at ‘Esurientes’. It is monumental and impressive rather than supple, in the way Regina caeli and Exaudiat te Dominus are. Another side of White’s treble writing can be heard in the two settings of the Compline hymn Christe qui lux es, where the part-writing is so perfectly crafted round the chant – especially in the last verse of the fourth setting – that White seems to defy gravity.

But perhaps the most modern pieces – by which I mean most obviously caught between old and new – are the Lamentations (two sets joined together). There is in fact little pure polyphony in this music, but rather parallel movements between the parts, organized in blocks. It makes for a mesmerizing effect, and I am not alone in thinking so. The scribe who wrote the music out for the first time, added in Latin at the end: ‘Not even the words of the gloomy prophet sound so sad as the sad music of my composer.’

Peter Phillips © 2008

   English   Français   Deutsch