The distinctive English traditions of polyphonic composition are vividly apparent in the first piece on the recording, Robert White’s Domine, non est exaltatum
. As is typical, we do not know when White was born, and there is hence uncertainty about how much of his output dates from Mary’s reign rather than Elizabeth’s. We catch sight of him as a singer of junior rank at Trinity College Cambridge in the mid 1550s, during Mary’s reign, but there is disagreement about whether he was a boy chorister (i.e. young enough to be singing with unbroken voice) at this point, and some of his works—such as the Marian Tota pulchra es
and Regina caeli
included on the previous album within this series—were surely written at Trinity College during Mary’s reign. Judging by its style, Domine, non est exaltatum
surely dates from the same period, rather than from Elizabeth’s reign. The essential sound-world of the piece is one that had been established by English composers over the previous century: grand sonorities encompassing an overall range of three octaves, with the distinctive English treble as the highest voice; division of the piece into two halves, the first in triple time and the second in duple; articulation of the work by alternating sections for a reduced number of solo voices and fully-scored passages, the entrances of which are often dramatic, as at ‘speret Israel in Domino’ (‘Let Israel hope in the Lord’) in the second half of White’s piece; passages of ‘gimell’ writing, in which some of the voice parts—here the bass—are further subdivided to produce thickly woven textures of echoing voices; and notably florid and energetic melodic writing. Since Psalm-motets such as this one were not written to be used as the normal psalmody of such Office services as Vespers, they do not end with settings of the doxology (the ‘Gloria’), but instead many of them—including Domine, non est exaltatum
—culminate in monumental and climactic settings of ‘Amen’, as did many of the great Marian antiphon settings by Tudor composers.
from notes by Owen Rees © 2020