Taken from the Cantiones sacrae
of 1575, the publication which Tallis undertook jointly with his friend William Byrd, the exquisite canonic Miserere nostri
uses the same scoring as the Missa Puer natus est nobis
and Suscipe quaeso Domine
(which might imply it was written with Philip II’s Chapel Royal in mind) and it follows a tradition found on the Continent of complex canonic writing. The two highest voices are in canon at the unison separated by just one beat. Four other voices are involved in this technical tour de force. The discantus and contra tenor parts have the same music at the same pitch but the notes in the contra tenor part are four times longer. The two bassus parts are also in canon at the unison with the discantus part but ‘per Arsin et Thesin’ which means that for every upward interval in the tenor part, the basses have a downward interval and vice versa. In bassus I the notes are eight times longer than in the discantus part, and in bassus II the note values are doubled. There is one free voice!
from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2015