is a unique achievement in its length, expressive power and liturgical function. The text consists of the antiphon to the Nunc dimittis at Compline on the major feast-days in the two weeks before Passion Sunday. The Nunc dimittis itself is the only part of the text to be sung to chant alone, while the antiphon text, which for days of this importance contained a verse and respond structure within itself, is set in polyphony complete. The first two verses are for men’s voices, the third for two trebles, two means and bass, and each is followed by all or part of the response ‘Sancte Deus. Sancte fortis. Sancte et misericors Salvator’. The composition begins with some of the most haunting words in any of the Offices: ‘Media vita in morte sumus’ (‘In the midst of life we are in death’). It was in setting these words that Sheppard conceived one of the greatest passages in all Tudor polyphony.
from notes by Peter Phillips © 1989