Tye’s Western Wynde Mass is one of three surviving English Masses based on the same monophonic song (the other two are by John Taverner and John Sheppard). The song’s avowedly secular text (‘Western wind, when wilt thou blow? The small rain down can rain, Christ, if my love were in my arms, and I in my bed again!’) is exactly the kind of Mass model that The Council of Trent found inappropriate at its debates concerning sacred music in the early 1560s. It is not certain which of the three Western Wynde Masses appeared first, although it would not have been Sheppard’s. Tye’s setting clearly complements Taverner’s, and it is generally assumed that Taverner’s Mass was the original. Where Taverner’s cantus firmus migrates between three of the four voice parts, Tye presents the melody exclusively in the alto part—the very one that Taverner chose not to use. And Taverner’s fivefold ascending melodic ostinato in the bass part of the opening of the Sanctus is matched by a sixfold descending melodic ostinato in the bass part of Tye’s Sanctus (both encompassing exactly the same range of a tenth). Both settings were written in the second half of King Henry VIII’s reign, and Tye’s setting contains some decidedly antique devices, which makes it possible (though far from probable) that Tye’s setting was chronologically the earlier. Among these devices is the late-medieval cadential formula at the end of the Osanna to the Sanctus, where the bass part leaps up an octave to arrive above the tenor, the first-inversion phrase ending at ‘miserere nobis’ in the Gloria, and the busily syncopated writing at the ‘qui venit’ section of the Benedictus which is reminiscent of the style of the late-fifteenth-century Eton Choirbook. But Tye’s interrupted subdominant cadence makes three appearances (to indicate the end of the bass ostinato in the Sanctus, at ‘gloria tua’ in the Sanctus, and halfway through the third and final Agnus Dei)—an indication that Tye had, by this stage, formulated his own modus operandi. The English cadence also makes two appearances (at ‘unigenitum’ in the Credo, and at ‘peccata mundi’ in Agnus Dei II), and a unique submediant cadence (in later classical harmony the archetypal form of interrupted cadence) colours the end of the Benedictus before the start of its Osanna.
from notes by Jeremy Summerly © 2012