The sectional structure of the text: a hymn to the Trinity, a passage in praise of Christ (‘Tu rex gloriae, Christe’), followed by a short antiphon (‘Aeterna fac’) leading into the final section, entails changes of chant, though not of mode, and these changes are of course retained in the polyphonic setting.
The only source of Taverner’s Te Deum is the set of part-books compiled by the Windsor lay clerk John Baldwin and dated 1581, from which the tenor part is missing. The restoration of this part is a fairly straightforward matter since it carries the chant in regular rhythm in every verse except ‘Aeterna fac …’ where the chant migrates to the bass. We may suppose from the extensive use of imitation, as well as the clarity of the part-writing and text-setting, that this is a late work, perhaps composed after Taverner had left Oxford, though whether it was written for a special occasion and what that occasion might have been we cannot now say. Taverner’s mastery of contrapuntal invention is evident in the variety of material he finds to surround the simple chant melody. The full five-voice texture is used throughout, and the scoring is low, which suggests that an adult choir, without boy trebles, was envisaged.
from notes by John Heighway © 2000