Thomas Tallis’ long life and career (c1505—1585) provide us with a remarkable overview of the tumultuous religious upheavals in the England of the sixteenth century. When his student and colleague William Byrd’s lamented, “Tallis is dead, and music dies,” not only had a beloved composer and friend passed away, but in a sense an entire age of music and faith. During a tenure as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal which began in 1543 and lasted until his death, Tallis served four Tudor monarchs (Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I) who embodied all the century’s tides of reform and counter-reform in Britain. Moreover, he was a living link to the stable world of pre-Reformation English Catholicism, having held organist positions at two monastic foundations (the Benedictine Priory at Dover and Waltham Abbey in Essex) which were later destroyed by Henry VIII in his dissolution of the English monasteries. While it seems clear that privately Tallis remained a Roman Catholic throughout his life, he was nevertheless very successful in adapting his craft to the denomination and aesthetics of the moment, capable of writing both extremely elaborate works epitomized by his famous 40-part motet Spem in alium, and in a more concise, syllabic style. The two ‘publics’ for which he wrote music, then, were the majority Anglican church and the hidden Catholic minority. The musical aims of the former, ironically, were quite similar to those seeking to reform Catholic music at the Council of Trent: clarity and intelligibility of the words, and simplicity of the musical textures. We hear these features in several, mostly English anthems on our program, such as his Ascension Day anthem If Ye Love Me (John 9: 15–17), probably written between 1547 and 1550 (although not published until 1565, as part of John Day’s Certaine notes set forth in foure and three parts, a collection of music appropriate to Anglican services), whose tender and radiant mood is heightened by the calm, homorhythmic progress of the voices, with only the gentlest of independent contrapuntal excursions breaking the serenely confident declamation. Another example of this plain style is the more dramatic communion anthem Verily, Verily I Say Unto You (John 6:53–56), as is the stately, sonorous O nata lux. (A Latin text does not automatically signal a Catholic audience, however; Queen Elizabeth favored Latin for her own private chapel, and during her reign the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was translated into Latin for collegiate use.) We also hear in these pieces one of Tallis’ peculiar hallmarks, his predilection for exactly repeating the second musical section to achieve a three-section composition (perhaps in imitation of the preaching style which repeats phrases to emphasize them).
Tallis shared with Byrd the position of organist at the Chapel Royal, and in 1575 Queen Elizabeth I granted the pair a national monopoly on music publishing and music paper printing. They responded with the publication of an extensive (but commercially unsuccessful) anthology, dedicated to the Queen, of Latin-texted anthems and motets; given contemporary anxieties about Latin liturgies and Roman Catholic recidivism, they issued it under the cautious title Songs Which From Their Texts Are Called Sacred (Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, 1575). These pieces, written at least in part for ‘recreational devotional’ use by Catholics meeting in private, show little trace of the reformist notions of continental Catholicism, perpetuating instead the dense opulence of pre-Reformation English music. Candidi facti sunt, a ‘respond’ (responsory) for the Daily Office, is drawn from this collection. The responsorial form consists of alternation between cantors and the full choir: first is sung the respond proper, started by soloists and continued by the full choir, which is then followed by a soloists’ verse, a tutti half-respond, a solo Gloria Patri, and a final tutti half-respond. For Candidi, Tallis chose a very old-fashioned approach, leaving the soloists’ parts as the original chant melody as well as building his polyphonic edifice around it as a cantus firmus in the second tenor part. Also drawn from the “Cantiones sacrae” is Salvator mundi (the second of two settings of this text for Matins on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross), which may have originated as a two-part instrumental canon (or ‘round’) with bass accompaniment (the canon can still be heard between the soprano and tenor parts). The two Lamentations have come down to us only in manuscript sources. They were probably composed in the mid- or late 1560s, when the practice of making musical settings of the Holy Week readings from the Book of Jeremiah enjoyed a brief, intense flowering in England, although they may never have been used in a public service. There is a curious blend of elements both conventional (the opening and closing textual formulae, the Hebrew-letter verse markers set to expansive melismata) and unconventional (the absence of plainchant quotations, the at times unrestrainedly affective expressivity, their likely second meaning as an allegory on the suppression of Roman Catholicism) which makes these works both puzzling and glorious. As musicologist Paul Doe writes, “Tallis integrated every compositional resource at his disposal—imitation, expressive modulation, homophony, antiphony—to produce soulful settings that rank among his finest works.”
English Renaissance music reached its zenith in the work of William Byrd (1543-1623), Tallis’ student and colleague, whose music blends universality, personal artistry, and a distinctive “Englishness” in ways which parallel J.S. Bach’s provincial yet universal legacy. Born a Roman Catholic at Lincoln, Byrd studied in his youth with Tallis and sang as a choirboy at the Chapel Royal. After a stint as Organist of Lincoln Cathedral in his twenties, he returned to London as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1570. With Tallis he shared the position of organist there, as well as the national monopoly on music publishing. By all outward signs, he was as successful as any English musician could hope to be. But the great tragedy in Byrd’s life, to which we may perhaps ascribe the special passion and power of his music, was the abolition of Roman Catholicism in Britain. Byrd sought to make a careful distinction between his Catholic faith and his English loyalty, as did many English Catholics of the time, but his society was unreceptive to such nuanced positions. Despite protection from Queen Elizabeth, Byrd finally left London in 1593, taking refuge in Essex on the estates of several powerful Catholic noblemen for whose clandestine chapels he composed much service music. He died there in 1623, venerable and greatly respected by his countrymen of all religious persuasions for his sacred works, instrumental music, madrigals, and solo songs. The motet Ave verum corpus was published in Byrd’s Gradualia (Book I, 1605), an enormous one-man project, conceived after his ‘retirement’ from London, to compose musical settings for the major saints’ days and feasts of the church year. This piece is a part of the set for the early summer feastday of Corpus Christi, which celebrates the mysteries of the Eucharistic Body of Christ. Many of Byrd’s characteristics are present in this miniature masterpiece: an intimacy of expression in the 4-part texture; close attention to the rhythms of the text; an emphasis on the personal element (as seen in his choice of the individual “miserere mei” rather than the communal “miserere nobis”); and a great sensitivity to enhancing verbal meaning through musical framing (notice how, at the opening, Byrd’s use of dissonance and slow motion emphasizes “Ave verum corpus,” “Hail true Body,” to make an important – and, for the time, controversial – statement about the nature of the Eucharistic Sacrament). We also hear in the harmony a juxtaposition of major and minor versions of the same chord known as a “cross relation” (for example, D major and d minor), a characteristic English sonority. The late English anthem Sing Joyfully Unto God (written sometime around 1590 or after), which survives in manuscript sources, shows a more modern and madrigalian side of Byrd, with paired soprano parts and many touches of word-painting (as at “blow the trumpet in the new moon”).
Thomas Tomkins (1572—1656) came from a Cornish musical family (his father was organist and master of choristers at St. David’s Cathedral in southwest Wales and later at Gloucester) and pursued his musical studies at Magdalen College, Oxford, receiving the BMus degree in 1607 (having been, according to his diploma, “14 years student in music.”). Three years into his studies (in 1596) he was appointed organist at Worcester Cathedral; he seems to have had some connections at the royal court in London as well, as one of his madrigals was included in Thomas Morley’s publication The Triumphes of Oriana (1601), a musical monument to the quasi-Marian cult of Queen Elizabeth. In 1621 he became one of the organists of the Chapel Royal; at the death of the senior organist, Orlando Gibbons, Tomkins was appointed to that position and moved to the forefront of English musical life. After 1630, however, he began to withdraw from court life and concentrate on his cathedral work at Worcester. In 1646, four years into the English civil war between Puritans and Royalists, Worcester surrendered to Oliver Cromwell and services at the cathedral were discontinued, although Tomkins and others were allowed to continue living on the premises. The anthem When David Heard that Absalom Was Slain first appeared in Tomkins’ Songs of 3. 4. 5. & 6. Parts (1622), otherwise mostly a collection of madrigals (which he dedicated to his former teacher, “my ancient, & much reverenced Master, William Byrd”); it was subsequently re-published posthumously by his son Nathaniel (a canon of Worcester Cathedral) in the 1668 sacred-music collection Musica Deo sacra et ecclesiae anglicanae. One of the absolute masterpieces of Tudor/Stuart Anglican music, this pathos-laden setting of King David’s lament over the death of his son (2 Samuel 18: 33) begins without the basses, high and plaintive, thin with grief. The keening descents, the yearning rising lines intertwine in profound yet restrained grief; it is as though we are hearing the tears course past the stiff upper lip. Yet at the end, a note of acceptance enters in as the mode moves from minor to major; it is well to note that Tomkins dedicated this anthem to his friend the poet-priest Thomas Myriell, who included it in the 1616 manuscript anthology of church music he called Tristitiae remedium – ‘a cure for sadness.’
The anthem Come, Let’s Rejoice Unto Our Lord is a fresh and buoyant paraphrase of the first two verses of the Venite (Psalm 95) by the provincial English composer John Amner (1579–1641). Amner was born in Ely into a family with strong connections to the music of Ely Cathedral; after studying for a music baccalaureate at Oxford, Amner returned to his hometown as instructor to the choristers, and was ordained to the diaconate. During his subsequent 31-year tenure at the cathedral he wrote a good deal of service music and anthems, although his only published collection dates from early in his career (Sacred Hymnes of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts for Voyces and Vyols, 1615). Amner’s oeuvre combines the simple, syllabic style of his Reformation-era predecessors at Ely with a more sophisticated idiom suited to the new verse-anthems and other polyphonic forms being encouraged by the high-church movement of Archbishop William Laud. (In a further twist of English religious history, only two years after Amner’s retirement choral services at Ely Cathedral were abolished altogether by Oliver Cromwell himself.) Come let’s rejoice shows a madrigalian sense of text-setting and a masterful use of overlapping imitation to build excitement, then closes with a jubilant, melismatic “alleluia.”
Two years old at the time of Tallis’ death and forty years Byrd’s junior, Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) only outlived the latter by two years, but in his short life he became the most celebrated and decorated musician of his time. A child chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, where he later matriculated, Gibbons trained as both a composer and organist. He succeeded Byrd as Organist of the Chapel Royal in 1605 (a position he retained for the rest of his life), adding the positions of Chamber Musician to the King in 1619 and Organist of Westminster Abbey in 1623. He received the exceedingly rare Doctor of Music from Oxford University in 1622. In addition to his contributions to literature for the organ, he is remembered for pioneering the English Baroque form known as the “verse anthem,” in which choral sections alternate with solo passages accompanied by independent instrumental parts. The festive and buoyant Hosanna to the Son of David (composed for use on Palm Sunday on a text from Matthew 21: 9), however, is an example of the older “full anthem,” composed for full chorus throughout, and shows the uniquely English co-existence of Renaissance and Baroque elements which would mark the English sacred (and secular) styles for the rest of the century. The text is set much like an English madrigal: the exultant upward-springing line which marks the opening section yields to a virtual pealing of bells on the words “blessed is He;” the sudden celestial stasis of “peace in heav’n” is disrupted by the boisterously earthy “and glory in the highest places.” When the opening Hosanna returns, the soprano line arcs yet a step higher than we have heard before in the piece (high above the heavens, as it were) as the anthem comes regally to a close.
The Anglo-Irish composer, teacher and conductor Sir Charles Villiers Stanford was, with Sir Hubert Parry, the fountainhead of the ‘renaissance’ in British music at the end of the 19th century. In spite of his stature as a composer (particularly in the realm of church music), he is perhaps best known as a teacher of several generations of British composers (among them Frank Bridge, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, and Ralph Vaughan Williams) who passed through his hands at the RCM and Cambridge University. Born into a prominent Dublin legal family in 1852, Stanford showed an early aptitude for music; in 1870 he won an organ scholarship to Queen’s College, Cambridge, and in 1873 he transferred to Trinity College, where he was appointed organist. During this time his composing activities blossomed, and he arranged to study abroad, first at the Leipzig Conservatory and later in Berlin. Returning in 1877 to Cambridge, he used his position as conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society to offer many British premieres of Brahms’ and other German composers’ works; he continued his association there through 1893, and brought such luminaries as Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Boito and Bruch to the university to receive honorary doctorates. In 1883 he accepted a position as professor of composition and orchestral conductor at the newly-organized Royal College of Music (under the direction of Sir George Grove, of The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians fame), and in 1887 he was also appointed professor of music at Cambridge, where he did much to raise the standards of the music degrees. With age, his increasing conservatism, musically and otherwise (he was an Irish Tory, with deep-seated loyalty to the Union), made him a difficult teacher. He died in London in 1924. Although his personal passion was for opera, Stanford is best known as a composer for his contribution to Anglican liturgical music, in particular for the symphonic and cyclic dimensions he brought to the familiar office canticles and communion texts. His luah Edwardian Op.38 Latin motets (which include Beati quorum via, with text from Psalm 119: 1, and Justorum animae, with text from the Book of Wisdom) showcase the sophisticated and refined diatonicism of Stanford’s harmonic language, which he consciously developed as a rejection of what he called Wagner’s “crushingly chromatic” idiom.
The radiant double-chorus motet Faire is the heaven (on a transcendental text excerpted from Edmund Spenser’s much longer poem “An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie,” from Fowre Hymnes, 1596) is one of the finest of many works for the Anglican church by the gifted organist-composer Sir William Harris (1883–1973). Recipient of an organ scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1899, he studied with Stanford’s colleagues Charles Wood and Walford Davies, and assisted the latter as organist at the Temple Church in London. Positions in London, at Lichfield Cathedral, and at New College, Oxford were followed by an appointment as professor of harmony and organ at his alma mater, the RCM, in 1921 (where he taught until 1953). In 1929 he left New College for Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and from there he moved to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, which post he retained until 1961. As a choirmaster he concentrated his energies on small professional choirs rather than large amateur ones; as a composer, he enriched and expanded the conservative Anglican style which he inherited. In addition to its rich use of the double-choir idiom and dramatic use of harmonic shifts, “Faire is the heaven” embodies those qualities of noble melancholy and wistful poise which are a peculiar beauty of much twentieth-century Anglican music.
Sir Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was part of that remarkable generation of English composers, heirs to Elgar and Delius, which included Peter Warlock, William Walton, and Gerald Finzi, and counted Vaughan Williams and Holst among its elder brothers. During his studies with Stanford and Wood at the Royal Conservatory of Music (beginning in 1912), he imbibed the best of what the renascence of English music had to offer; during his subsequent tenure as professor there (beginning in 1920), at St. Paul’s Girls’ School (1936–62, as successor to Holst), and at the University of London (appointed 1953) he had ample opportunity to transmit these riches to subsequent generations. Although he also wrote chamber and orchestral works, he is most renowned for his contributions to English liturgical music, of which he is the principal 20th-century composer; in the words of one biographer, he “created a limited but intense sound-world that has proved a durable mirror of both the restraint and the exultation of the Anglican experience.” Howells represents that strain of 20th-century British music which drew its strength from a creative reworking of Tudor church music; indeed, Vaughan Williams once remarked affectionately that Sir Herbert surely was “a reincarnation of one of the lesser Tudor luminaries.” The rediscovery of this Tudor heritage had a profound impact on English composers of Howells’ generation, to whom, recoiling from the overworked vocabulary of Victorian Romanticism, the music of the English Renaissance came as a revelation whose liberating influence was only heightened by its synergy with the concurrent folksong revival. One of the principal figures in this rediscovery was Sir Richard Runciman Terry (1865–1938), a erstwhile choral scholar at King’s College who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1896 and served the new Roman Catholic cathedral of Westminster as music director from 1901 to 1924. Terry’s choirs specialized in Renaissance polyphony (a Westminster tradition which continues to this day), and he almost singlehandedly supplied their repertory through prodigious labors of transcription from the manuscripts of the British Library (which efforts were eventually published as the famous series Tudor Church Music). Westminster Cathedral became for a time the most interesting musical establishment in London, hosting many important premieres (such as Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in 1903 and Vaughan Williams’ Mass in g minor in 1922). The double-choir Regina caeli is the third of Four Anthems of the Blessed Virgin Mary written in 1915 for Terry and the Westminster Cathedral choir and premiered by them at Compline on Easter Day, 1916. Howells gives us what seems like a rhapsody or fantasia on fragments of Gregorian chant (although he doesn’t actually quote any) which reaches a hair-raising chordal climax at “Resurrexi” before settling back into the gentle undulations with which he began.
The most recent music on this disc comes from the pen of Sir John Tavener (b. 1944), perhaps the most acclaimed British composer of the present day. His training at the Royal Academy of Music (beginning in 1962) initially produced an ultramodernist language much indebted to Messiaen, Boulez, and the later Stravinsky, exploring collage, serialism, musical stasis, and non-developmental contruction. In the late ’60s he accepted a professorship in music at Trinity College, Cambridge, where Stanford and Vaughan Williams had trod before. Early on he revealed a preoccupation with the spiritual mysteries of life and death (his Celtic Requiem of 1969 fascinated the Beatles and was later recorded on their Apple label), which themes came further to the fore after his reception into the Orthodox Church in 1977. The year 1981 saw the publication of his Funeral Ikos (text from the Greek Order for the Burial of Dead Priests), the first of the choral works incorporating elements of Orthodox music and ethos on which his current popularity rests. In a seamless admixture of unison chanting and harmonic refrains, individual lines fan out and contract to a few central notes, mirroring each other as though viewed through a kaleidoscope.
The Quire of Voyces is a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance of sacred choral music in historic settings. The Santa Barbara Quire of Voyces was founded in 1993 by Nathan J. Kreitzer, Director of Choral and Vocal Activities, and Music Department Chairman at Santa Barbara City College. The annually auditioned volunteer group, made up of professional singers from the Central coast area, is dedicated to the highest quality performances of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance and 20th Century, in historic settings. It gives ten concerts annually, and has been featured several times on The First Art, a production of Chorus America on National Public Radio, as well as on Radio KDB 93.7 and KEYT-TV of Santa Barbara. The ensemble has appeared as part of the Midwinter Music Festival, the Gotland Medieval Festival in Visby, Sweden, and at the Music Academy of the West. The enthusiastically received performance in Visby (June 2000) was the highlight of a concert tour that featured performances in seven other cities including Kalmar (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia) and Copenhagen (Denmark). The success of this tour inspired Nathan Kreitzer and the Quire’s Board of Directors to plan for a tour in the year 2003 to Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Most recently the ensemble has been asked to perform with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra in performances of Mozart's "Requiem" and J.S. Bach's "Bminor Mass". The Quire of Voyces is host to a major annual education and outreach event for high school choruses from throughout California. This Chamber Choir Festival introduces young singers to the literature and performance of great choral music. The choirs are adjudicated by three of California’s most highly respected professional choir directors.