The Missa Euge bone
is Tye’s masterpiece, and for that reason it has been suggested that this six-voice work was Tye’s doctoral submission to Cambridge University in 1545. However, it is just as likely that the Mass dates from Queen Mary’s reign (1553–1558) and that it was composed shortly after the motet Quaesumus omnipotens et misericors Deus
, on which the Mass is partly based. The alternation of high and low voices throughout the Mass derives from the opening textures of the motet, and the first interrupted subdominant cadence occurs within a minute of the start of the Gloria in the three lower voices. The English cadence at ‘Agnus Dei’ introduces a jubilant section of stretto imitation at the words ‘Filius Patris’, where fifteen beats contain fourteen stretto entry points. The second, more reflective, section of the Gloria again plays on the antiphonal effect between upper and lower voices, and the interrupted subdominant cadence at ‘altissimus’ introduces magical block-chord homophony at the words ‘Jesu Christe’. The short final section of the Gloria culminates in a major-mode English cadence which leaves the listener dazzled—the entire text of the Gloria has been set expansively and colourfully in under six minutes. This is lean complexity at its best. The Credo is even shorter, although two-fifths of the full Credo text is omitted in order to achieve this. The Credo, like the Gloria, is also in three sections, and much of the material of the Gloria is re-used, although the interrupted subdominant cadence which appears just over a minute after the start of the movement now appears in the transparent upper voices (as it had done in the motet) to blissful effect, and this is followed by a section of sublime polyphony in which Tye’s sustained voice-leading creates a beguiling sense of dynamic stasis. An English cadence towards the end of the first section of the Credo leads into the movement’s central section, which is at first reflective but changes mood as the resurrection is announced. The short final section of the Credo culminates in the same stretto passage that was heard at the end of the Gloria’s opening section. The Sanctus begins with block-chord harmony—six arresting chords to carry the six syllables of the three statements of the opening word. At the word ‘Sabaoth’, the first section ends with another masterly cadence, this time where the dominant harmony seems to prepare for a resolution, but which stays resolutely where it is. The next two sections are for high and low voices respectively. But this time the upper voices appear in four parts rather than three (the treble part divides into two) and create a celestial texture which is answered by the resonantly handled lower four voices in the following section. The Osanna begins with three block chords, and the Sanctus ends with an interrupted subdominant cadence, which heralds the arrival of the Benedictus. The slow and measured procession of the entries of the Benedictus theme is inexorably satisfying, and once the last voice to enter (the lowest) has stated the theme, the section stops, at which point the boisterous Osanna surprises because it does not begin with block chords. The Agnus Dei is—uniquely for the period—set four times. The first Agnus Dei alternates high and low voices and then brings all six voices together for an extended span of stretto imitation: nineteen entries over thirty beats. The second Agnus Dei, scored for the four lower voices, passes through colourful submediant harmony to end with Tye’s most effective interrupted subdominant cadence of all. The third Agnus Dei creates an engaging five-voice texture by splitting both of the top voice parts into two, and underpins them with a fluid baritone line which ends with a melodic ostinato that states itself almost four complete times before seamlessly veering off to create the closing cadence. That the upper lines present themselves as a strict four-voice canon is astonishing given the delicate aural beauty of this section. The final Agnus Dei begins with commanding homophony which leads to a closing section where one final interrupted subdominant cadence ushers in the closing bars of this phenomenal work. The title of the Mass—‘Well done, good [servant]’—seems to relate to the Parable of the Talents in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, yet there is no convincing explanation for it. It will do, however, as an accolade to Tye’s accomplishment as composer of this iconic piece.
from notes by Jeremy Summerly © 2012