John Taverner

born: c1490
died: 18 October 1545
country: United Kingdom

Not a great deal is known about the life of John Taverner. He is thought to have been born around 1490 in Lincolnshire, and is first documented in 1525 as a lay clerk at the collegiate church of Tattershall, a musical establishment of some importance. Later that year he was recommended by Bishop Longland of Lincoln for the new post of Informator (choirmaster) at Cardinal College (now Christ Church), Oxford, founded by Cardinal Wolsey and lavishly endowed with a choir of sixteen choristers and twelve ‘clerkes skilled in polyphony’. After overcoming an initial reluctance to leave the security of Tattershall, he accepted this prestigious invitation in time for the formal opening of the College in October 1526. Its glory proved to be short-lived, however, and after Wolsey’s fall from power in 1529 its fortunes and finances soon began to decline. Taverner resigned the post in 1530. For the next seven years his whereabouts are unknown. Possibly he worked as a freelance musician in London, or perhaps he returned directly to Lincolnshire. From 1537 Taverner was in Boston, maybe employed as an agent for Thomas Cromwell, who had been commissioned by Henry VIII to carry out a survey and valuation of the lesser monasteries and friaries prior to their dissolution. There is no truth in the persistent claim that Taverner was a fanatical persecutor in carrying out these duties. The significance of the often-quoted note in the 1583 edition of Foxe’s Acts and Monuments that Taverner came ‘to repent him very much that he had made songs to popish ditties in the time of his blindness’ may well have been exaggerated; Foxe, an ardent Protestant, was writing some forty years after the composer’s death, and the term ‘popish ditties’ remains open to interpretation. On the contrary, there is documentary evidence that Taverner had genuine concern for the welfare of the monks and friars. The assumption that he ceased to compose after leaving Oxford is based on speculation, since a proportion of his output has probably been lost and what has survived is not always easy to date.

Taverner died in 1545 and was buried beneath the famous ‘stump’ of Boston church.

As the undisputed master of his generation, Taverner witnessed and greatly contributed to the final phase in the development of the florid style that had dominated English sacred music since the death of John Dunstable in 1453. If the works of Taverner’s immediate precursor, William Cornysh (died 1523), represent the peak of sheer virtuosity, those of Taverner himself seem to proceed along a rather more serene path regulated as much by harmonic considerations as purely melodic ones.

The music of the generation before Taverner—for instance the unequivocally medieval florid writing of the Eton Choirbook—is the glorious culmination of a predominantly insular culture, developed and sustained in those great choral institutions which had been founded or substantially expanded in the fifteenth century. Some of Taverner’s music remains firmly in this late-medieval tradition as regards form and aesthetic, even if the style is stripped of some of its florid detail. But in other works (presumably the later ones) there is evidence of a growing awareness of contemporary continental features, particularly in the systematic use of imitation, and a tendency towards clarity of texture and simplification of rhythm and line.

The music of Taverner, taken as a whole, represents the final development of the florid late-medieval English style, coupled with the assimilation of new aesthetic and technical features which indicate the growing influence of continental thought and practice. Individual works embody these two facets of Taverner’s music in varying degrees, depending mainly on liturgical form and function, but also, to a certain extent, on their chronological position within the composer’s output.

from notes by Sally Dunkley © 2000

Albums

Taverner, Tye & Sheppard: Western Wynde Mass
CDGIM027
Taverner: Missa Corona spinea & other sacred music
CDH55051Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas
CDGIM004
Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas
Studio Master: CDGIM045Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas & other sacred music
CDH55052Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Taverner: Missa Mater Christi sanctissima & other sacred music
CDH55053Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Taverner: Missa O Michael & other sacred music
CDH55054Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Taverner: Missa Sancti Wilhelmi & other sacred music
CDH55055Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Taverner: Western Wynde Mass & other sacred music
CDH55056Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Renaissance Giants
CDGIM2072CDs for the price of 1
Renaissance Radio
CDGIM2122CDs for the price of 1
Sheppard, Taverner & Tye: Western Wynde Mass
CDGIM027
The Sixteen & The Golden Age of Polyphony
CDS44401/1010CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
The Tallis Scholars Live in Oxford
Studio Master: CDGIM998Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Church Music, Vol. 1
CDGIM2092CDs for the price of 1
The Tudors at Prayer
Studio Master: CKD447Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Tye, Sheppard & Taverner: Western Wynde Mass
CDGIM027

Complete works available for download

Alleluia. Veni, electa meaThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Audivi vocem de caeloThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Dum transisset Sabbatum IThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Dum transisset Sabbatum IThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Dum transisset Sabbatum IIThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Ex eius tumbaThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Gaude plurimumThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Gaude plurimumThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Hodie nobis caelorum rexThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
In nomine a 4Fretwork
In pace, in idipsumThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Leroy KyrieThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Leroy KyrieThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Leroy KyrieThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Magnificat a 4The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Magnificat a 4 – Nesciens materThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Magnificat a 5The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Magnificat a 6The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Mater Christi sanctissimaThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Missa Corona spineaThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Missa Gloria tibi TrinitasThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Missa Gloria tibi TrinitasThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Missa Gloria tibi TrinitasThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Missa Mater Christi sanctissimaThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Missa O MichaelThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Missa Sancti Wilhelmi devotio 'Small Devotion'The Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
O splendor gloriaeThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
O Wilhelme, pastor boneThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Quemadmodum a 6Fretwork
Quemadmodum a 6Magnificat, Philip Cave (conductor)
Te DeumThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Western Wynde MassThe Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor)
Western Wynde MassThe Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)