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Ave, Dei patris filia
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Ave, Dei patris filia is one of five votive antiphons by Tallis, four of them (Ave rosa; Salve intemerata; Ave, Dei patris filia and Gaude gloriosa; the exception is Sancte Deus) containing some of his most spacious lines. Until David Skinner recently found some missing material in the British Library, Ave, Dei patris filia had long been considered to be unreconstructable, and even now it lacks its tenor until the final page and its treble in the first part of the ‘Amen’. Nonetheless Skinner’s detective work and subsequent reconstruction have revealed a major addition to Tallis’s oeuvre, and one which does not exactly duplicate the style of any of the other antiphons. It is interesting to observe that in this instance – and not in any of the others – Tallis was contributing to a tradition of settings of a text: amongst the other composers to have chosen Ave, Dei patris filia were Fayrfax, Taverner, Marbecke and Robert Johnson, alongside two earlier anonymous ones, all of them in the traditional five-part scoring of treble, mean, alto, tenor and bass.

The text has seven stanzas, of which the last is extended, the number seven often having been associated with the Virgin, most obviously in the Feasts of the Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows. Each stanza begins with the word ‘Ave’, and each begins a new section in the music, which mostly involves a change in scoring. To create a strong half-way point Tallis joins stanzas three and four into a long full section; and he is able to do the same at the end with the extended seventh stanza, building its ‘Amen’ into something magnificent. In between are some substantial trios and one duet (stanza six). Twice the initial ‘Ave’ is given special emphasis by the marking of fermatas (or pauses) over each of its syllables.

Though all of Tallis’s antiphons are fairly early works, Ave, Dei patris filia gives the impression of being one of his first mature compositions (contemporary with the Magnificat and earlier than Audivi vocem and Puer natus est nobis), probably written in the 1530s. It shows signs of being an apprentice work in the closeness with which it follows the layout and detail of Fayrfax’s setting of the same text, especially at the beginning, at ‘Ave, Eterne’, and largely in the overall scoring. In fact, as Dr Skinner has shown, it was possible to identify where the missing tenor part sounded in the Tallis from a close study of Fayrfax’s own scoring.

Ave, Dei patris filia also shows the strong influence of John Taverner’s music, though in fact Tallis amalgamated two contrasted, though not contemporaneous, elements in Taverner’s style. On the one hand he chose to write a full-length festal votive antiphon while, like Taverner, avoiding the kind of purely virtuosic display in the vocal lines which is more often found in similar works by Cornysh and Browne; on the other he regularly deployed one of Taverner’s favourite techniques from his later and more compact non-festal antiphons – creating answering phrases in the full sections between the two top voices and the three lower ones with almost syllabic word setting. Somehow, by working quite brief motifs on a festal scale, Tallis was able to conceive some of the most memorable writing in all his pre-Reformation compositions – ‘semper virgo Maria’ just before the ‘Amen’ is a perfect case in point. There is nothing flamboyant about this, and yet this music seems to have all the time and spaciousness associated with the old festal antiphon, and the late medieval world which promoted it.

from notes by Peter Phillips © 1998

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