The Baldwin Partbooks are our main source for the music of John Sheppard, containing more items by Sheppard than by any other composer, and indeed Baldwin marked his high estimation of the composer by giving him pride of place, opening the books with a group of his motets. This group comprises Psalm-motets except for one work with an unusual and intriguing text, Confitebor tibi Domine
. This text is based upon a passage from the Book of Isaiah, but this has been substantially altered in ways that would have made it particularly appropriate to the first year or so of Mary Tudor’s reign, from August 1553, while she was working to restore Catholicism as the country’s official faith, but before the official reconciliation with the Church of Rome and absolution of the nation in late 1554. In Isaiah’s text the Lord’s anger has already been turned away and the speaker has been comforted, whereas in Sheppard’s version the divine forgiveness is yet to be achieved: ‘let your anger be turned away and you will comfort me’. The new text inserts references to the joy brought by the return to and spreading of (true Catholic) ‘doctrine’, and concludes with the exultation of ‘the blessed church of Christ’. Sheppard chose a style for his motet which is far from the slowly unfolding grandeur of the Psalm-motets by William Mundy and Robert White, and which foregrounds the dramatic delivery of text, presenting it compactly with clear-cut divisions into short musical paragraphs, using abundant chordal declamation and antiphonal exchanges between high and lower voices.
from notes by Owen Rees © 2020