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Hyperion Records

CDA68026 - Tallis: Missa Puer natus est nobis & other sacred music
The Queen Mary Atlas (c1555-1558) by Diogo Homem (1521-1576)
© The British Library Board / Add. 5415 A, ff.9v-10
Recording details: February 2013
Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, United Kingdom
Produced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Engineered by Martin Haskell & Iestyn Rees
Release date: March 2014
Total duration: 67 minutes 35 seconds

'Tallis's Christmas Mass … is sung here with customary perfection by The Cardinall's Musick, who polish other Tallis gems alongside it, most notably Videte miraculum, a work of such sensuous beauty it quite eclipses the Mass' (The Observer)

'The new recording rivals the best of those available: it’s Hyperion’s Recording of the Month for March 2014 and it’s mine, too … the opening work on the new recording, Salvator mundi, Domine, from Compline, shows polyphony arising from the plainsong opening like an organic growth. It’s important that the transition should seem like moving from one world to another, yet appear to be seamless, and this The Cardinall’s Musick achieve to perfection. The scene is set for another CD to match the high quality of its two predecessors' (MusicWeb International) » More

'L'approche de Carwood est rhétorique : franche accentuation du texte dans des tempos allants, voix et lignes plus individualisées et sonorité moins ronde. L'influence de Pro Cantione Antiqua, revendiquée par Carwood, est évidente … il faudra suivre de près cette nouvelle traversée de l'univers de Thomas Tallis' (Diapason, France) » More

Missa Puer natus est nobis & other sacred music
Gloria  [9'18] LatinEnglish

Gramophone Record of the Year-winning group The Cardinall’s Musick continues its exploration of Tallis’s sacred music. These recordings not only showcase the greatest repertoire of the English Renaissance in dazzling performances, but also illustrate the complex historical and political background of the works and their genesis.

Other recordings by The Cardinall's Musick

This volume presents Tallis’s extraordinary seven-voice Mass, Missa Puer natus est nobis, which dates from the Catholic reign of Mary I. In his fascinating booklet notes Andrew Carwood writes that this Mass is ‘something of a marriage between the English and Spanish Chapels, not only in its scoring but also in its sound world … the piece is sonorous and rich, a gorgeous background tapestry for a solemn celebration of the Mass, and has wonderful dramatic effects including the use of antiphony or dialogue between voices. It is a shame that Tallis wrote no more in this vein but, perhaps like Mary’s short-lived Restoration, it was a piece of the moment not to be repeated’.

Other works recorded here include what is possibly Tallis’s earliest work, the four-part Latin Magnificat, and the gloriously splendid Videte miraculum, a masterpiece with a ‘rich palette of colours, enhanced by suave melodic writing with a slow-moving harmonic pulse tinged with heart-achingly gorgeous cadences’.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The 1550s must have been one of the most confusing, exhilarating, perplexing and challenging of decades in which to live. Edward VI was king at the beginning, still ruled by his advisors but increasingly imposing his own will as the head of the most Protestant regime that England had seen. Prayer Books in English had been issued in 1549 and 1552 (the second more Protestant than the first) and Henry VIII’s reforms (previously held in check by the old king’s engrained Catholicism which never really left him) were moved forward with vigour and divided the country. There was war with Scotland, rural disquiet and a downturn in the economy. This was the state of the realm when Edward died on 6 July 1553 prompting the feeble attempt by his nervous advisors to place the unlucky Lady Jane Grey on the throne as a Protestant puppet. Mary, first daughter of Henry VIII, who had clearly been placed next in line by her father, was quick to react, raising forces in the East of the country and moving with ease and acclamation to the capital to take her throne. Uncompromising in her Catholic faith, she restored England to full communion with Rome (a move which was not as unpopular as it is often claimed) and became the first example of a woman successfully running England as Queen regnant. Her difficulties were not only religious (there was undoubted resistance to her policies) but also economic—a series of wet summers caused severe problems with the harvests—financial and diplomatic. In 1554 she married Philip I of Spain in a grand ceremony in Winchester Cathedral amidst considerable debate and disquiet. Her death on 17 November 1558 allowed her half-sister Elizabeth to take the throne and by May 1559 Mary’s Catholic regime was ended by Parliamentary legislation.

Most composers seem to have found Mary’s arrival as Queen a stimulating and empowering period. Music was once again required in Latin and they were able to use more voices and write longer pieces. The miracle that is the Missa Puer natus est nobis is a Janus-like composition which undoubtedly dates from the time of Mary I. In common with English Mass-settings of the past Tallis does not set the Kyrie; he may well also have shortened the text of the Credo as his forebears had done but this we cannot tell as only the final few bars of this movement remain (and it is not recorded here). He takes a plainsong tune as a cantus firmus, harking back to the Masses of Robert Fayrfax, Nicholas Ludford and the early John Taverner, and sets it in long slow notes in the baritone part. In the later years of Henry VIII this idea had become rather old fashioned. Certainly Taverner in his later Masses was either using as the starting point for his Mass-settings one of his own motets (Missa Mater Christi sanctissima, Missa Sancti Wilhelmi devotio) or a secular tune (The Western Wynde Mass), or indeed no model at all (The Meane Mass). Tallis chooses a Mass Proper as his melody—Puer natus est nobis (‘Unto us a boy is born’)—rather than one from Divine Office; this is unusual and with its strict liturgical role (the Introit at third Mass on Christmas Day) it strongly suggests that the Mass was written for one of the Christmases during the time of Queen Mary. Also like his predecessors, Tallis uses a head-motif, where the same music is used as the starting point for each movement.

This is where the looking back ends. Most pre-Reformation Masses were scored for five voices (SATBarB), the exception being Ludford’s ravishing Missa Videte miraculum for six voices (SSATTB). Tallis’ composition is for seven voices (AATTBarBB) without the once-common high treble part. Using such large forces would have attracted the description ‘festal’ in the pre-Reformation period but Tallis does not follow other conventions associated with this form. There are no sections for soloists and the Mass movements are not broken up by as many caesuras as one would expect. Not only is there no juxtaposition of solo and full sections but there is no official use of triple time, the piece being in duple metre throughout. Interestingly, Tallis has embraced Archbishop Cranmer’s injunction that music should not be ‘full of notes, but, as near as may be, for every syllable a note, so that it may be sung distinctly and devoutly’—a feature of the attractive miniature compositions from the reign of Edward VI.

There are three other pieces by Tallis which use seven voices in this configuration—Suscipe quaeso Domine, Loquebantur variis linguis and Miserere nostri—and it has been suggested that this unusual scoring was deliberately chosen to suit performances by Philip’s Chapel Royal which seems not to have used high treble voices and was resident in England with the king between 1554 and 1555. The evidence then—a Mass based on a Christmas theme, scored for performance by the English and Spanish Chapels—points to Christmas 1554 as a possible performance time. Academics may also be correct in believing that the choice of the Puer natus cantus firmus was designed to celebrate the fact that Queen Mary was thought to be pregnant at this time. The Missa Puer natus is itself therefore something of a marriage between the English and Spanish Chapels not only in its scoring but also in its sound world which seems to owe something to the Flemish style of writing, especially in the slow-moving harmonies and the use of passing notes in the melodies (most usually upwards towards the key note) which allow the textures to shimmer. It also prominently features what became known as the ‘English cadence’, a clash of flattened and sharpened leading notes in close proximity. The piece is sonorous and rich, a gorgeous background tapestry for a solemn celebration of the Mass, and has wonderful dramatic effects including the use of antiphony or dialogue between voices (‘altissimus’ in the Gloria or the ‘Osanna’ to the Sanctus). It is a shame that Tallis wrote no more in this vein but, perhaps like Mary’s short-lived Restoration, it was a piece of the moment not to be repeated.

The earliest work recorded here, and perhaps indeed Tallis’ earliest surviving composition, is the four-part Latin Magnificat. This piece sounds like the work of a young composer. Here we see Tallis learning the pre-Reformation style which comes to fruition in the antiphon Salve intemerata virgo and which he was to develop further in Gaude gloriosa. It is true that one has to forgive the jejune setting of ‘et sanctum nomen eius’ (which would merit a red-pen mark from a teacher of composition), some rather ungainly imitation (‘Sicut erat in principio’) and some unusual tessituras, especially in the contratenor part. But this is to miss the fact that Tallis has correctly assimilated the style, reducing his forces at appropriate moments, varying his duple and triple metres and highlighting the word ‘Abraham’ with caesuras and adding a nice harmonic turn at the cadence (which would later become a Tallis characteristic). He has also used a faburden as the basis of his composition. A faburden is the harmonization of an existing tune, in this case a version of the Mode I plainsong (used for the verses which Tallis did not set) which can be clearly heard acting as a cantus firmus throughout and most clearly at the beginning of each section, all of which start with three descending notes.

Tallis’ setting of the Benedictus, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel’, is a stand-alone setting of the text instructed to be sung at the Morning Office of Mattins in Cranmer’s new Prayer Book. It is scored for lower voices and is a wonderful example of how Tallis can take a very restricted style of writing, one which is essentially quite plain, and turn out a minor masterpiece. The use of divided tenors and basses gives a warm sonority and there is a judicious amount of imitation at the beginning of some sections contrasted with greater textual clarity through homophonic writing at the start of others. Tallis allows himself a little textual repetition at the very end (the words ‘and ever shall be’, before the final ‘Amen’) but otherwise adheres to Cranmer’s advice over text-setting. William Byrd, Tallis’ pupil and friend, thought highly enough of this piece to re-use the melody of ‘which hath been since the world began’ in his Great Service some decades later.

In contrast to the Magnificat, four works recorded here were quite forward-looking for their time. Hymns at Divine Office had not often been set to polyphony before the end of Henry VIII’s reign. Both John Sheppard and Tallis set a number of these Hymns and it is tempting to speculate that there was some sort of scheme here, as, between them, they cover many of the feasts of the liturgical year. The Hymns consist of a set of verses in metrical poetry where the composers provide polyphony for alternate verses, the others being sung to plainsong. Salvator mundi, Domine is taken from the Office of Compline and Quod chorus vatum is a Vespers Hymn for Candlemas. Tallis starts in triple mode for both Hymns and moves to a duple metre for the last polyphonic verse. The plainsong tunes of each Hymn are quoted in the top part, in the case of Quod chorus vatum very strictly but in Salvator mundi, Domine Tallis allows himself considerable licence as the piece develops. In both works, Tallis places strong syllables at different times within the lower voices; this provides rhythmic impetus as well as variety and means that when cadences are reached they always sound fulfilling.

Audivi vocem de caelo and Videte miraculum again belong to Divine Office, the first being a Responsory for All Saints and the second one for Candlemas. A Responsory is usually designed to allow time for contemplation after a reading and has a repeating form, mixing as it were a chorus with verses. As with all plainsong it is started by a cantor (whose job it is to provide a suitable pitch for performance) and is then taken up by all the singers. Then follows a verse sung by soloists, a repeat of a portion of the first section by the full choir, and a further verse (often the first part of the ‘Gloria Patri’) followed by a final repeat from the full choir, which in shorthand looks like ‘ABACA’. John Taverner seems to have been the first composer to investigate this form with his two settings of the Easter text Dum transisset Sabbatum and his own setting of Audivi vocem. He uses two schemes. One has plainsong for the incipit and two verses and sets the portions which would have been sung by the choir to polyphony (Dum transisset). The other does the reverse, providing polyphony for the incipit and verses and leaving the choir sections to be sung to chant (Audivi vocem).

Tallis’ setting of Audivi vocem de caelo uses the same form as Tavener’s setting. It is a modest piece, scored for just four voices with a divided alto part and remains serene throughout, apart from a quickening of the pulse when the warning comes that the bridegroom has arrived in the middle of the night. By contrast Videte miraculum follows Taverner’s Dum transisset scheme and, unlike Audivi vocem, is written on a grand scale for six voices with divided basses and tenors. It is one of his most gloriously splendid pieces, containing a beautiful dissonance in its opening bar which is repeated throughout the first section. This is Tallis at his finest: a rich palette of colours, enhanced by suave melodic writing with a slow-moving harmonic pulse tinged with heart-achingly gorgeous cadences. With such music it is no wonder that after his mentor’s death in 1585, William Byrd felt moved to set the words ‘Tallis is dead and music dies’.

Andrew Carwood © 2014

Other albums in this series
'Tallis: Ave, rosa sine spinis & other sacred music' (CDA68076)
Tallis: Ave, rosa sine spinis & other sacred music
CDA68076  5 January 2015 Release  
'Tallis: Gaude gloriosa & other sacred music' (CDA67548)
Tallis: Gaude gloriosa & other sacred music
'Tallis: Salve intemerata & other sacred music' (CDA67994)
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