The verse anthems Ah, helpless wretch
and The secret sins
show the composer adapting late in life and with considerable verve to a new form which would be of enormous significance for the future history of English church music. The essential novelty here is the presence of an independent accompaniment—adapted for organ and church use from the secular lute or viol consort—to a single voice echoed by the full choir. Mundy, with Richard Farrant and Byrd, was the first to develop this genre, which appears to derive from the hugely popular choirboy plays mounted by such as Farrant with choristers from St Paul’s, the Chapel Royal or Windsor. These last had their own theatre at Blackfriars, as well as being hired out for city functions, and were ambiguously celebrated by Shakespeare in Hamlet
and excoriated by puritans: ‘Even in her Majesty’s Chapel do these pretty, upstart youths profane the Lord’s Day by the lascivious writhing of their tender limbs, and gorgeous decking of their apparel, in feigning bawdy fables gathered from the idolatrous heathen poets …’—in the case of Ah, helpless wretch
none other than the author of The poore Widowes mite
, one Christopher Hunnis, Master of the Choristers of the Chapel Royal after Farrant, who wrote the play from which the song comes in 1583.
from notes by Nicolas Robertson ｩ 1989