========= from the cover ==========
The Golden Age Of English Music At The Turn Of The 16th
and 17th centuries has unjustly overshadowed the period that preceded it, i.e. the first three quarters of the. 16lh century, corresponding to the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and the early part of that of Elizabeth. It was a troubled century, especially from a religious point of view, culminating in Henry VIII's Reformation in 1531. The two confessions spent the next thirty years in bitter strife.
Musically the period is dominated try the three great T's of English music: John Taverner (1495-1545), Christopher Tye (1498-1572) and Thomas Tallis, the youngest and most eminent of the three. He is most certainly one of the greatest of all 16th century composers, and had the good fortune of a very long life, spanning two succeeding periods in English music. The same thing was to happen to his most famous disciple, William Byrd (1542-1623), who was younger by a generation.
Thomas Tallis was born aound 1505. It would appear that he was first trained as an organist and was to acquire the reputation of an outstanding virtuoso on the instrument. In 1532 we find him as the joculator organorum of the Benedictine Priory at Dover. After a brief spell in London he became the organist of the celebrated A ugustinian Abbey of the Holy Cross at Waltham in Essex, where he was also master oj the choristers. This actwity soon came to an end with the dissolution of the Abbey by Henry VIII in 1540. From 1540 to 1542 be was a lay-clerk in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral. But his first contacts with the Chapel Royal seem to go back at least five years before that, and they were to extend over a period of nearly half a century and four reigrts. From 1542 until his death in 1585 Tallis held a position as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.
The 5-part setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah is a veritable masterpiece. Tallis's personality, composed of concentrated gravity, sublime exaltation and intense mystical fervour, capable of the most harrowing asperity, is wholly present in this work. The listener will undoubtedly be surprised, by the presence of certain violently dissonant clashes of voices. These are the famous false relations", characteristic of the 16th century English school of Tallis and Byrd. These collisions are caused by the simultaneous occurrence of two forms, one ascending the other descending, of the minor scale. A century later Purcell, too, was to be very partial to these dashes. Tallis set only the first two lessons of the first Nocturn for Maundy Thursday. Moreover, the work probably consists of two separate compositions, since it is written in two different modes. The nature of the text has dictated the very sombre sound-colour of this Jive-part polyphonic setting, which is deliberately confined to the middle and lower registers. The emotional power of the old English master is overpowering.
After the Reformation the, Latin motet sung in alternation wilh the plainsong no longer had a place in the English liturgy, except in the contingency of clandestine Catholic services. Nonetheless, composers, and Tallis in particular, continued to compose vocal and instrumental polyphonic music based on apiainsong cantus firmus. A part of the Cantiones Sacrac published jointly by Tallis and Byrd in 1575, still contains works of this kind. Among the Jive Hymns recorded here Salvator mundi Domine and Te lucis ante terminum comefrom this collection, while the remaining three have survived, in manuscript form.
Salvator mundi Domine, sung at Compline for the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord, is striking on account of its extraordinary false relations, and the same is true of Deus tuorum militum, sung at Vespers in the Common of a Martyr, a less sombre, but also less fervent piece. Sermone blando angclus is of an extraordinary luminosity, but the most beautiful of all these pieces is the Hymn for Matins on Whit Sunday, Jam Christus astra asccn-derat, in which Tallis's inspiration seems to soar ever higher and higher until the radiant concluding Amen. Tallis set the Hymn for Compline, Tu lucis ante terminum twice, using the Sunday plainsong in one and the weekday plainsong in the other. We have recorded the second version.
The three organ hymns are from the celebrated Mulliner Book, one of the most invaluable sources of English keyboard music of the 16th century.