The Matins respond for the Feast of St Nicholas, Ex eius tumba
, incorporates a prosa, ‘Sospitati dedit aegros’. This is an interpolated text, consisting of eight verses which refer to several legends associated with the life of the fourth-century saint. The verses were set in pairs, so that there were four different plainsong melodies. All the verses had the same end-rhyme, the final syllable of which, ‘–o’, was taken up by the chorus in repeating the melody of each of the first seven verses, the last verse leading (both musically, and in the sense of the words) directly into the repetition of the final part of the respond. Taverner provided polyphony for all the verses, so that each of the four plainsong melodies received two different treatments, the result being a kind of variation chain. As well as varying the scoring, Taverner also varied the presentation of the plainsong itself in each verse. In the first verse, for instance, the melody appears, somewhat elaborated, in the second voice down (the mean); while in the following verse the same melody is given canonic treatment in the mean and the tenor.
So far as we know, Taverner’s is the only sixteenth-century setting of this text, and the style and texture of the music, as well as its formal complexity, place it firmly in the medieval tradition, and suggest that it may be among Taverner’s earlier works, perhaps written while he was still at Tattershall. Polyphonic and structural intricacies do not, however, diminish the inherent qualities of Taverner’s graceful melodic lines and varied sonorities.
from notes by John Heighway © 2000