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Dum transisset Sabbatum

author of text
Mark 16: 1-2; Third Respond at Matins on Easter Day

The first motet unfolds in a mysterious and contemplative manner, as the sun rises on the first Easter morning. The two Marys arrive at the tomb to anoint the Son of God’s body, and one can almost smell the sweet spices which they bring. The text is the Respond to the third lesson at Matins on Easter Day. John Taverner made two settings of these words, in five and four parts respectively. Michael chose to use the first of these as his model. Peter Phillips has written of the 'rhapsodic atmosphere' which Taverner creates, and this is surely also true of Finnissy’s reimagining. There is jubilation at 'ut venientes' and 'Alleluia', as though the two women are anticipating the joy of the Resurrection. The three 'Jesum' chords exemplify the range of ways in which a Christian might address God—from awed reverence to anger or a despairing cry. The first brings to mind the Catholic tradition for worshippers to drop to their knees as Jesus’s name is uttered. This passage demonstrates Finnissy’s deep understanding of the power of silence within an act of worship. Silence takes on structural significance in many of the works of the cycle, such as in the second instrumental Commentary.

The three 'Jesum' chords provide unifying musical material for the whole cycle. They are each built from five pitch classes (e.g. G, A, B, C, E) the intervals between which are always one Third and three Seconds. The pitches are then rearranged in different octaves. The third 'Jesum' contains a squashed version, using only tones and semitones, creating the climatic chord of the sequence. Sometime after the first performance of Dum transisset the composer made a change to the original 'Jesum' chords, as he began to contemplate cyclic connections between all the works of his residency. He wanted the movements 'all to refract through one another'. He spoke of 'building up a reservoir of material' as the cycle progressed.

Finnissy copies Taverner’s scheme for the polyphony with repeats of ever decreasing length: ABC – BC – C. Tavener's three large polyphonic sections are interspersed with two sections of unembellished plainchant. Finnissy dresses the first of these up with his own rhythms for the altos. For his second interpolation we hear two-part writing of a raw elemental quality, which hints at rather earlier music than Taverner. Finnissy only sets the first two verses of Chapter 16 of Mark’s Gospel, but the final bars give a deep sense of verse 8:

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

from notes by Andrew Nethsingha © 2020


Finnissy: Pious Anthems & Voluntaries
Studio Master: SIGCD624Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Track 1 on SIGCD624 CD1 [8'07] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD624 disc 1 track 1

Recording date
18 July 2019
Recording venue
St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Chris Hazell
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Finnissy: Pious Anthems & Voluntaries (SIGCD624)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: August 2020
    Download only
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