The seven-part Miserere nostri
is a technical tour de force, rare in Tallis. It belongs – at one remove, since it has no chant – to the English tradition of canonic Miserere settings, pure demonstrations of technical skill. This piece is a canon six in two with a free tenor, which is to say that there are two canonic melodies, one sung by the two mean parts and the other shared between the four other canonic voices. The two means sing a normal, close canon at four beats distance, which is easily audible. The first countertenor has a melody which is also sung by three other voices starting simultaneously – one in double augmentation (the second countertenor); one inverted and augmented (the second bass); and another inverted and in triple augmentation (the first bass). It is a most effective tribute to the power of Tallis’s imagination.
from notes by Peter Phillips © 1994