Gaude gloriosa [16'42]
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|The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)|
|The Cardinall's Musick, Andrew Carwood (conductor)|
Tallis’s monumental votive antiphon, Gaude gloriosa is a piece requiring some detective work. At first glance it appears to sit firmly within the pre-Reformation style. A setting of a lengthy and rambling text to the Virgin, it is similar to those set by the older masters such as Robert Fayrfax, Ludford and Taverner. What imitation is present in the piece is modest and short-lived and the whole makes its effect through its length (461 bars), wide vocal ranges and superb control of dramatic gestures. Contrast is created by juxtaposing sections for reduced forces with settings for full choir: all characteristics typical of the pre-Reformation style.
Yet there are good reasons for supposing a later date of composition. Compared with Tallis’s early compositions (Ave rosa sine spinis, Ave Dei Patris filia and Salve intemerata virgo), Gaude gloriosa shows a considerable advance in confidence, structure and effect. The earlier pieces can seem rather sprawling, and in some cases appear to be the work of a composer learning his craft. Indeed Ave Dei Patris filia refers to Fayrfax’s work of the same name much in the style of a student exercise. Yet Gaude gloriosa is sure-footed and eloquent, a considerable advance on his early work. It is scored for six voices rather than the more usual five-part texture and sports divided tenors, a baritone and a bass part allowing a thicker sonority than is sometimes usual for an early sixteenth-century composition. The full sections contain little respite for the singers, with hardly a bar’s rest in any voice part, lengthy and demanding writing and a fairly constant exploitation of the upper register of the top part. In short it is bigger, thicker and more well-nourished than the earlier style. The sections for solo voices are the work of a mature composer, especially in the section making use of the treble and alto gimmells (the voices split into two parts) and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no duets (de rigueur in earlier pieces). It is almost as if this is Tallis remembering an older style, recreating a sound world banished by Edward VI.
One further point needs consideration. The text, an extended paean to the Virgin Mary is deeply Catholic. It seems unlikely that such words would have been deemed appropriate in the latter days of Henry VIII, even when he was having a more Catholic phase. Yet this text in nine sections each beginning with the word ‘Gaude’ would have been just the sort of piece that Mary Tudor might have wanted to hear, one which could knit together both the old and new: a celebration of the world of her youth in its form and text and, through its very composition, a bedrock for her new Catholic order.
from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2005
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