40 radio-friendly recordings specially selected to celebrate The Tallis Scholars 40th Anniversary, presented in a deluxe 2CD set with picture discs, a 24-page booklet and full colour slip case. The Digital album includes a 26-page PDF booklet.
1. Allegri’s famous Miserere, composed around 1638, was for many years reserved for exclusive use by the pope’s private choir in Rome, and sung only during the Tenebrae Offices of Holy Week. Scored for two choirs alternating with plainchant, the work has a long history of being ornamented, sometimes very elaborately. Here The Tallis Scholars sing a shortened version, with some new embellishments added by soprano Deborah Roberts, the fruit of her experiments in over 300 concert performances. The cantor is Andrew Carwood.
2. This motet is one of Josquin’s early works, composed probably in France in the late 1470s. Its text celebrates the five Corporeal Joys of the Blessed Virgin Mary – her Conception, Nativity, Annunciation, Purification and Assumption – and it ends with a personal prayer: ‘O Mother of God, remember me.’
3. Motets were sometimes written as gifts for patrons. This one, richly scored for seven-part choir, may have been made for Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria, and is placed first in a luxurious illuminated manuscript copied for him in 1559. The words come from the biblical Song of Songs.
4. Clemens worked briefly for a Marian brotherhood in the Netherlands, and wrote this seven-voice motet as a gift to them in 1550. Its words come from the biblical Song of Songs; they include the brotherhood’s motto: ‘sicut lilium inter spinas’ – ‘like a lily among thorns’. The number seven features prominently in the cult of the Virgin Mary, hence the use here of a seven-part choir.
5. Like many motets composed around 1500, this one is cleverer than it sounds. Jean Mouton made it by taking a plainchant melody and working it in canon: two voices sing the tune, but starting at different times and on different notes. He then added four more parts, embedding the canon in sumptuously rich polyphony. The words come from the evening service of Compline: ‘Save us, Lord, whilst awake, guard us whilst sleeping’.
6. Lassus spent the best part of forty years in Munich, directing the chapel choir of the Dukes of Bavaria, and composing vast quantities of music for it to sing. This eight-voice Ave regina caelorum, one of five settings of this text by him, would have been performed at the end of the evening service of Compline in the period leading up to Holy Week.
7. Lassus’s double-choir Salve regina, one of seven settings of this text by him, is for use at Compline from roughly June to November.
8. This wonderfully sonorous carol was written for use at Vespers after the Magnificat during the Christmas season. Praetorius himself would have directed it in the grand parish church of St Jacobi in Hamburg, where he was organist. The choir regularly divides into two halves, one of high voices, one of low, singing in alternation.
9. Few compositions before the age of Johann Sebastian Bach are more intriguing than this one. Take a popular song – here the tune called ‘L’homme armé’; cut it in half; turn one half backwards, and place it on top of the other; slow the whole thing down; and compose two tight canons above it. It sounds complicated – and technically it must have been hard to make – yet the result, dating from around the year 1500, is one of the loveliest things Josquin ever wrote.
10. Brumel’s ‘Earthquake Mass’, scored quite exceptionally for 12-voice choir, is an enigma. Nobody knows when or where this colossal work was written, nor why it quotes a plainchant melody with the words ‘And behold, an earthquake’. The work is full of drama and quivering textures, evident even in the meditative music of the closing Agnus Dei.
11. Most masses by Palestrina intentionally quote from other music; but his Missa Brevis, or ‘short mass’, grows wholly out of his own invention, guided by the sounds and meanings of the words. This is a four-voice mass, but in the closing Agnus Dei, Palestrina splits the soprano line into a two-part canon, so that the mass can end with a glowingly radiant texture.
12. This five-voice piece comes from Palestrina’s earliest set of motets, published in Rome in 1569; and to judge from its style it may be one of his student works. Already, though, it has all the poise and polish that make Palestrina’s music so famous. The words are from the biblical Song of Songs: ‘Like a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters of Adam’.
13. Gesualdo is best known for his weird and wonderful madrigals, but he also turned his hand to composing motets. This one, from his first book of ‘cantiones sacrae’ – ‘sacred songs’ – was published in Naples in 1603. Its text is used up to the present day as part of the Apostolic Blessing ‘Urbi et Orbi’, delivered by the pope every year at Easter and on Christmas Day.
14. Here is another motet from Gesualdo’s 1603 publication, this time setting a well-known medieval verse addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It asks for her protection at the hour of death.
15. This lovely motet in praise of the Virgin Mary was highly regarded in the late sixteenth century, and is widely viewed as Guerrero’s masterpiece. Composed probably for the choir of Seville Cathedral, it gives pride of place to the two soprano parts, which sing identical music in canon eight beats apart.
16. Victoria’s music is sometimes said to possess a special Spanish mystical intensity; but its expressive style may also arise from Victoria’s close links with the Jesuit community in Rome. His terse four-voice Ave Maria combines directness of diction with a strong sense of spirituality.
17. Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories, first published in Rome in 1585, were written for the solemn services of Holy Week, when the candles were gradually extinguished and the church fell into darkness. The cycle reaches its bleakest point in O vos omnes, the fifth responsory at Matins on Holy Saturday.
18. In 1587, following an early career in Rome, Victoria moved back to his native Spain to run the chapel choir of the Dowager Empress Maria, sister to King Philip II. It was for the Empress’s funeral in 1603 that he wrote his magnificent six-voice Requiem Mass. The Kyrie has three sections, and ends with some of the most expressive writing in the work.
19. An air of radiance glows through the music of the Gradual of Victoria’s six-voice Requiem, inspired by words that pray for ‘eternal rest’ and ‘perpetual light’.
20. To accompany his six-voice Requiem for the Empress Maria, Victoria composed a matching funeral motet. Its solemn words come from the biblical book of Job.
21. The 1560s saw a vogue in England for motets based on the biblical book of Lamentations. Robert White, Osbert Parsley, the young William Byrd and Thomas Tallis all turned to these texts, perhaps in a quest to write highly expressive music. Tallis’s first setting starts by introducing itself: ‘Here begins the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah’.
22. Musical settings of the Lamentations traditionally include the Hebrew letters that preface each verse of the text – hence the word ‘Aleph’ before the first verse of Tallis’s Lamentations.
23. Tallis’s music for the second Lamentation verse starts with the Hebrew letter ‘Beth’; and it ends with stern advice: ‘Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God’.
24. The words of this motet state that those who govern us are given strength when honoured by God. Roman Catholics traditionally link this text to the Apostles of Christ, but in Tallis’s mind it would have applied equally well to Elizabeth I, queen of England.
25. This fine motet is in fact an adaptation of earlier music by Tallis; much of it comes from a fantasia for five viols he composed probably in the 1560s. The motet version celebrates Holy Communion, and was probably made for the choir Tallis himself sang with: the Chapel Royal of Queen Elizabeth I.
26. Tallis published this miniature masterpiece in a collection meant to show off English music to foreigners. Its rich sonority, metrical ambiguity and odd shifts of harmony are indeed all quintessentially English. The words are drawn from Roman Catholic service-books as used in Italy and France, and celebrate Christ the Redeemer.
27. Beneath the sounding surface of this lovely work lies a sub-structure of amazing complexity. Four of the lower voices sing identical lines, but at different speeds in the ratios of one to two to four to eight, and with two of those voices singing the melody upside down. Against this, two soprano parts weave another canon that somehow fits perfectly with everything else. Tallis then added a seventh voice to fill out the texture.
28. piece takes its name from a mysterious tune called ‘Leroy’ that features in a number of Tudor musical manuscripts. The most likely explanation is that one of the 15th-century kings of England composed this melody, perhaps Henry IV or Henry V being ‘le roi’ in question. In Taverner’s ‘Leroy Kyrie’, the tune is sung by the sopranos.
29. When Taverner wrote his mass Gloria tibi Trinitas, probably in the 1520s, he could have had no idea that part of it would one day turn viral. Its Benedictus – and specifically the section to the words ‘in nomine Domini’ – later served as a model for countless pieces by composers from Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons up to Henry Purcell. These works, known as ‘In nomines’, are meant for viols; but they can all claim descent from John Taverner’s church music.
30. This lovely motet for men’s voices comes from the Eton Choirbook, one of the few music manuscripts to survive from the reign of King Henry VII. The piece is ascribed there to ‘Cornysh’, a name that could apply to any one of three musicians of that name. Most likely, though, it refers to William Cornysh Junior, who died in 1523.
31. Strictly speaking, this piece is a hymn for Compline in the season of Lent. But the fact that Robert White composed four different settings of this text, in styles ranging from the simple to the elaborate, hints that they also serve to show off his versatility. In this third setting, White provides polyphony only for alternate verses; the others are sung to plainchant.
32. Sheppard composed three short settings of this text, all for use in the evening service of Compline in the days leading up to Holy Week. This one, scored for four men’s voices, is the longest and probably the oldest. As usual in settings of this text, only some of the words are given polyphony; the rest are sung to plainchant.
33. Sheppard’s second setting of In manus tuas is also scored for four men’s voices.
34. Sheppard’s third setting of In manus tuas survives as a work for three voices. A fourth part may in fact be missing from its only source; but if so, the piece works well without it.
35. England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was a Protestant country; but William Byrd, who worked for the queen, sided with the Roman Catholic minority, and professed his faith in secret out of fear of persecution. His Mass for four voices, which dates from the early 1590s, has a bittersweet quality that hints at Byrd’s inner turmoil and divided loyalties.
36. Tallis was a member of the Chapel Royal at the time of the English Reformation, and was therefore a pioneer composer of English-texted music for the new Protestant liturgy. His four-voice anthem If ye love me dates from around 1550, and sets words from the Gospel according to St John.
37. This is another of Tallis’s early anthems, composed during the reign of King Edward VI, probably for use by the Chapel Royal. In line with the demands of the Protestant reformers, the words are declaimed plainly and simply so that the listener can follow them. They come from the Old Testament book of Kings I.
38. Tallis’s position as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal extended into the first three decades of Queen Elizabeth’s reign; but surprisingly few pieces by him survive that are known to have been written for that choir during those years. One of them is the anthem A new commandment, a setting for men’s voices of verses from the Gospel according to St John.
39. In 1567, Tallis and Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, published a book of psalms translated in English verse, with musical settings suited both for church choirs and for domestic use. The book’s preface claims that the third of Tallis’s so-called ‘tunes’ ‘doth rage, and roughly brayeth’, making it a good match to the words of Psalm 2. This piece later served as the inspiration for Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.
40. According to the book’s preface, Tallis’s fourth tune ‘doth fawn, and flattery brayeth’, fitting well with the words of Psalm 95.
41. The eighth tune ‘goeth mild, in modest pace’, apt for singing Psalm 67. Here the sopranos duplicate the tenor line after four beats, hence the popular name for this work: ‘Tallis’s Canon’.
42. Strictly speaking the tune in Tallis’s ninth psalm-setting is sung by the tenors; but in fact the soprano part is more famous today as the hymn-tune known as ‘Tallis’s Ordinal’.
43. Tomkins probably wrote this piece as a lament for Henry, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of Britain, who died while still in his teens in 1612. Thereafter the work lived a double life: church choirs sang it, but Tomkins himself published it in a set of madrigals, made for use by solo voices to sing at home.
44. Byrd composed surprisingly few anthems, bearing in mind that he was a member of the Chapel Royal for more than four decades. This one, with words from Psalm 81, is arguably his best, and definitely his most popular. There’s something of the madrigal about it, especially at the words ‘Blow the trumpet in the new moon’.
45. This imposing anthem for six-part choir may have come into being for topical reasons. Its words, from Psalm 86, protest against the proud and violent men who ‘are risen against me’ – a sentiment that Byrd’s employer Queen Elizabeth I would have felt when faced with the Northern Rebellion of 1569, or the Babington plot to assassinate her in 1586.
46. Byrd joined Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal in 1572, and probably wrote this anthem a few years later. Its text comes from Psalm 21, but has been customized to address Elizabeth by name. Following the queen’s death in 1603, the words of the anthem had to be changed to match the name of each succeeding monarch; but since 1952, by pleasing coincidence, Byrd’s original text is once again relevant.
47. No music better reflects the splendour of Queen Elizabeth’s court than Byrd’s Great Service. Composed probably in the 1590s for the choir of the Chapel Royal, this is a work meant for occasions of state, and to impress foreign visitors. Byrd’s invention reaches its height in the two canticles for Evensong – the Magnificat, and the Nunc dimittis performed here.
© 2013 John Milsom