BREMF Consort of Voices and The Lacock Scholars sing Spem in alium at BREMF 2017
Surviving to around the age of 80, Thomas Tallis lived through or during the reigns of no less than five monarchs. He experienced the full force of Henry VIII's violent English Reformation, that in an early pre- echo of Brexit, saw England break away from the pan European Catholic church, with the resulting social meltdown, chaos and persecution of Catholic 'remainers'. He also saw the brief return to Catholicism under Queen Mary and even more violence, unrest and burnings until the arrival of Queen Elizabeth 1st brought about a state of relative stability.
Tallis himself remained a Catholic for his entire life, but managed to keep out of trouble, even composing music in English for the early Anglican church including the beautifully austere psalm setting for Archbishop Parker. One of those settings was later used by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis. Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth he was given the sole patent on music printing, alongside his erstwhile pupil and friend William Byrd. Tallis's influence on Byrd may even have extending beyond the musical and played a role in Byrd's own conversion to Catholicism. Both composers wrote music that was at times only a thinly veiled political statement of discontent at the break with Rome (Tallis's Lamentations and Byrd's Ne Irascaris Domine and Vigilate are good examples).
Both Robert White and John Sheppard were also composers who wrote primarily Latin texted music for the Catholic rite. Sheppard, only ten years younger than Tallis, must have known his music, although we have no idea if they ever met, for Sheppard spent almost his entire life in Oxford. A lot of his music dates from the reign of Queen Mary, testifying to his own Catholic faith, yet he also composed probably the finest setting of the English Lord's Prayer. Almost contemporary with Byrd, but cut off in his prime by an outbreak of plague, Robert White was another Catholic who managed to hold important church posts under protestant Queen Elizabeth, most notably at Westminster Abbey.
The Wode Psalter is a collection of psalm settings dating from the earliest years of the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Although most of the settings were commissioned from the Scottish composer David Peebles, Thomas Wode, a former monk who put the collection together, added a number of works by other composers, including Thomas Tallis whose simple but sublime settings in English clearly seemed ideal.
The ultimate achievement of polyphony, Spem in alium must rank now as one of the most popular pieces of all times. After its initial performances, the first probably around 1570 and a later version in English at the investiture of James I's eldest son Henry as Prince of Wales in 1610, it remained unperformed for centuries. Considered for some time to be 'unperformable', it has fortunately proved its doubters wrong!
(LS= Lacock Scholars, BCV= BREMF Consort of Voices
|Thomas Tallis c.1505 -1585||Miserere (tutti)|
|Dum transisset (LS)|
|John Sheppard c.1515-1558||Jesu salvator Saeculi (BCV with LS chant)|
|Tallis||Lamentations (part 1) (LS )|
|William Byrd 1539/40-1623||Ne irascaris Domine (BCV)|
|Byrd||Infelix ego (LS)|
|Sheppard||Libera nos, salva nos (BCV)|
|Robert White c. 1538 - 1574||Exaudiat te Dominus (BCV)|
|Sheppard||The Lord's prayer (BCV& LS)|
|Tallis||Psalms from Archbishop Parke's Psalter (LS)|
|When shall my sorrowful sighing slack (The Wode Psalter - BCV)|
|David Peebles d 1579?||In trouble and adversity (The Wode Psalter - tutti)|
|Tallis||Spem in alium (tutti)|