Birth: ca. 1490 in South Lincolnshire, England
Death: Oct 18, 1545 in Boston, Lincolnshire, England
John Taverner is considered the most important figure in English music of his time. His compositions exist in about 30 manuscripts that were copied over about a 100-year period, beginning around the late 1520s. It is believed that many of his works were lost; a good many others survive but in partial form, such as the Masses Mater Christi and Small Devotion, and the smaller-scale antiphons Ave Maria and Sub tuum praesidium. It is generally accepted that Taverner's three (six-part) Festal Masses (Corona spinea, Gloria tibi Trinitas, and O Michael) rank with the greatest works of their kind up to that time. Taverner's contribution to the genre of the votive antiphon was also considerable, with Ave Dei patris filia, Gaude plurimum, and O splendor gloriae being among the most important.
Taverner was born most likely in south Lincolnshire, perhaps in the vicinity of Boston or Tattershall, around 1490. Nothing is known of his parents or early years. Some of his compositions - Ave Dei patris filia and Gaude plurimum - were discovered among manuscripts of Henry VIII, and there is evidence to suggest that they were written for the Chapel Royal. There is also ample reason to believe these compositions date from 1515-1525, the period during which some therefore believe he lived in London. It may thus be speculated with some good reason that the composer spent some time in London in the early part of the sixteenth century.
In 1524, Taverner became a clerk-fellow of the collegiate church choir of Tattershall. In November 1526, he took on the post of Master of Choristers at Cardinal College, Oxford. The composer wrote a number of works during his Oxford years, including his three Festal Masses, the Mass Sancti Wilhelmi, and Jesu Christe pastor, a votive antiphon. In fact, during this period and the Tattershall years that immediately preceded it - that is, the period from 1520-1530 - it is believed that Taverner composed the bulk of his music.
In 1527, Taverner became entangled in a scandal involving the dissident religionist John Clark, who was proselytizing for Lutheran theological ideas. It is believed that Taverner was ultimately exonerated of all charges, but he left the College in April 1530 anyway, owing to its decline following the English Reformation.
Taverner's whereabouts and activities over the next six years are unknown. He is mentioned among the new members of 1537 for the Corpus Christi Gild in Boston, Lincolnshire. The Gild listed the composer as having a wife when he was admitted to membership. Her name was Rose Parrowe, a widow from Boston, with two daughters.
In 1538, Taverner took on the position as agent for the Crown when he began working for Thomas Cromwell. Many music historians have depicted the composer's role during this period as that of a fanatic bent on the demise of various religious congregations and orders, owing to their loyalty to Rome. It appears, however, that Taverner was a compassionate advocate on behalf of those targeted by Cromwell to surrender possessions to the Monarchy. In January 1539, he wrote Cromwell a letter beseeching him to forego further efforts at forcing divestiture of the holdings of many of the religious houses in Boston. In 1540, he resigned from his duties as a Crown agent. The following year, Taverner became treasurer of the Corpus Christi Gild, remaining in that role for at least three years, after which Gild records ceased. In 1545, Boston became a borough, and Taverner served as an alderman there.
- Robert Cummings (All Music Guide)