Sheppard’s first setting of Libera nos, salva nos takes as its text the sixth antiphon at Matins on Trinity Sunday. Its liturgical position was thus about half way through the chief morning Office, as celebrated in its festal form with three nocturns. The text, a petition to the Holy Trinity for freedom, redemption and absolution, is sufficiently general to allow the possibility that Sheppard’s setting was used at other Offices, in the place where votive antiphons had once been sung (and where in Anglican Offices the choir sings the anthem); it is likely that the piece was composed during Sheppard’s time at Magdalen College, Oxford, among whose statutes is the ordinance that this very text be recited twice a day. Unusually, and unlike Sheppard’s Office hymns and responds, the chant cantus firmus is placed in the lowest voice. The rate of harmonic change is consequently very slow; this, and the mode’s tonal stability, accounts for the serenity with which the music unfolds.
from notes by Robert Quinney © 2008