Hyperion Records

Missa Puer natus est nobis
composer
probably written for performance at Christmas 1554; edited, and reconstructed where necessary, by Sally Dunkley and David Wulstan in 1972, and revised by Sally Dunkley with the assistance of Francis Steele in 2009
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

Recordings
'Christmas with The Tallis Scholars' (CDGIM202)
Christmas with The Tallis Scholars
Buy by post £11.75 CDGIM202  2CDs for the price of 1  
'Tallis: Missa Puer natus est nobis & other sacred music' (CDA68026)
Tallis: Missa Puer natus est nobis & other sacred music
Buy by post £10.50 CDA68026  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Tallis: The Tallis Christmas Mass' (CDGIM034)
Tallis: The Tallis Christmas Mass
Buy by post £11.75 CDGIM034  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Details
Movement 1: Gloria
Movement 2: Sanctus and Benedictus
Movement 3: Agnus Dei

Missa Puer natus est nobis
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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. 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.

from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2014

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA68026 track 5
Agnus Dei
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-14-02605
Duration
7'48
Recording date
22 February 2013
Recording venue
Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Recording engineer
Martin Haskell & Iestyn Rees
Hyperion usage
  1. Hyperion monthly sampler – March 2014 (HYP201403)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: March 2014
    Download-only monthly sampler
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