The four-part Latin Magnificat
is perhaps Tallis’ earliest surviving composition. This piece sounds like the work of a young composer. Here we see Tallis learning the pre-Reformation style which comes to fruition in the antiphon Salve intemerata virgo
and which he was to develop further in Gaude gloriosa
. It is true that one has to forgive the jejune setting of ‘et sanctum nomen eius’ (which would merit a red-pen mark from a teacher of composition), some rather ungainly imitation (‘Sicut erat in principio’) and some unusual tessituras, especially in the contratenor part. But this is to miss the fact that Tallis has correctly assimilated the style, reducing his forces at appropriate moments, varying his duple and triple metres and highlighting the word ‘Abraham’ with caesuras and adding a nice harmonic turn at the cadence (which would later become a Tallis characteristic). He has also used a faburden as the basis of his composition. A faburden is the harmonization of an existing tune, in this case a version of the Mode I plainsong (used for the verses which Tallis did not set) which can be clearly heard acting as a cantus firmus throughout and most clearly at the beginning of each section, all of which start with three descending notes.
from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2014