sábado, 1 de diciembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [01-XII-2012]

Thomas Tallis [c.1505-1585]: Gaude gloriosa a 6.
The Tallis Scholars - Peter Phillips.
Music for Henry VIII.

    Andrew Carwood says about Tallis and this piece:
"When Henry VIII broke with the Roman Church over the issue of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon he and his advisors plunged the country into decades of unease and instability. Certainly there had been criticisms of the pre-Reformation Church and discontent over a number of political issues, but England was a remarkably devout country – in terms of liturgy and observance, as devout as they came. Henry himself was foremost amongst the defenders of the Catholic Church, proudly holding the papal title Fidei Defensor (found on British coins to this day) for writing a scathing attack on Luther and his heretical doctrines.

    Once the split was underway the fabric of society was changed through the systematic dissolution of the monasteries from 1536 onwards. The end of the religious houses and collegiate chapels meant that the people were more able to see and hear the drama of the Mass even if they could not understand its more subtle points. But in terms of liturgical change, Henry’s reforms left much unchanged – ‘Catholicism without the Pope’ as it is sometimes termed. It was only with the accession of the boy-King Edward VI and his Protestant advisors that a significant difference became obvious, with the two English Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552. On Mary’s accession Catholicism was restored, England reconciled with Rome and a Latin liturgy re-established. On her sister Elizabeth’s accession a ‘third way’ was found: a path which disliked extremism of any sort and which tried to establish a peculiarly English ecclesiastical ‘pax’.

    For composers of liturgical music these cataclysmic changes meant that they had to make a decision: whether to remain true to the old faith and stop writing music altogether (as did Nicholas Ludford) or whether to repudiate old beliefs and embrace the new (John Merbecke). Later in the century, others seemed able to cling to the old beliefs in spite of the prevailing political wind, producing music for both the English Church and motets which resonated with the recusant Catholic community (Robert Parsons and William Byrd). Thomas Tallis seems to have steered a remarkable path through the lives and whims of four sovereigns, producing music acceptable to each of them and living a long and discreet life. Amongst his output are large-scale votive antiphons for Henry VIII, shorter pieces in English for Edward VI, liturgical music for Mary, and liturgical and domestic motets in English and Latin for Elizabeth.

   Of Tallis’s early life we know very little. His first employment record is as organist of the Priory in Dover in 1532, which perhaps suggests Kent as his area of birth. Dover Priory was a small Benedictine monastery which was dissolved in 1535, suggesting that something may have been very wrong with the community (Henry’s dismantling of the smaller houses did not begin in earnest until 1536). No record exists of Tallis’s departure from Dover but we know he was in the employ of St Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate in London during 1537/8 and that by the autumn of 1538 he took a position at Waltham Abbey in Essex. If Tallis was hoping for security at Waltham he was disappointed. 1538 was also the year that saw the dissolution of the larger monastic houses and Waltham was no exception, being closed on 23 March 1540 (the last English abbey to be dissolved). Being a recent employee, Tallis received no pension from Waltham Abbey but he did get 20s in outstanding wages plus an extra 20s. However he soon gained a place in the newly founded choir of Canterbury Cathedral – where he headed the list of twelve singing men in 1540 – but remained there for only two years, having been appointed to the most prestigious and desirable position for a professional Tudor musician – Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. The exact date of his joining is not known but he is recorded in the list of gentlemen in the lay subsidy roll of 1543/4. Perhaps this new position gave him extra security and confidence for in about 1552 he took a wife, Joan. He remained a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal for the rest of his life, rising steadily until he became its most senior member, finally being titled ‘Organist’ in the 1570s.

    Tallis died in 1585 and is buried in the Church of St Alphege in Greenwich where is found this gentle, modest and touching epitaph:

Enterred here doth ly a worthy wight,
Who for long tyme in music bore the Bell;
His name to shew was Thomas Tallys hyght;
In honest virtuous lyff he did excell.
He served long tyme in Chapell with grate prayse,
I mean King Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary and Elizabeth our Quene.
He maryed was, though children he had none,
And lived in Love full three and thirty Yere,
With loyal Spowse, whose name yclipt was Jone,
Who here entomb’d now company him bears.
As he did lyve, so also did he dy,
In mild and quyet sort, O! happy man.
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let Death do what he can.

    Tallis’s monumental votive antiphon, Gaude gloriosa is another piece requiring some detective work. At first glance it appears to sit firmly within the pre-Reformation style. A setting of a lengthy and rambling text to the Virgin, it is similar to those set by the older masters such as Robert Fayrfax, Ludford and Taverner. What imitation is present in the piece is modest and short-lived and the whole makes its effect through its length (461 bars), wide vocal ranges and superb control of dramatic gestures. Contrast is created by juxtaposing sections for reduced forces with settings for full choir: all characteristics typical of the pre-Reformation style.

    Yet there are good reasons for supposing a later date of composition. Compared with Tallis’s early compositions (Ave rosa sine spinis, Ave Dei Patris filia and Salve intemerata virgo), Gaude gloriosa shows a considerable advance in confidence, structure and effect. The earlier pieces can seem rather sprawling, and in some cases appear to be the work of a composer learning his craft. Indeed Ave Dei Patris filia refers to Fayrfax’s work of the same name much in the style of a student exercise. Yet Gaude gloriosa is sure-footed and eloquent, a considerable advance on his early work. It is scored for six voices rather than the more usual five-part texture and sports divided tenors, a baritone and a bass part allowing a thicker sonority than is sometimes usual for an early sixteenth-century composition. The full sections contain little respite for the singers, with hardly a bar’s rest in any voice part, lengthy and demanding writing and a fairly constant exploitation of the upper register of the top part. In short it is bigger, thicker and more well-nourished than the earlier style. The sections for solo voices are the work of a mature composer, especially in the section making use of the treble and alto gimmells (the voices split into two parts) and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no duets (de rigueur in earlier pieces). It is almost as if this is Tallis remembering an older style, recreating a sound world banished by Edward VI.

    One further point needs consideration. The text, an extended paean to the Virgin Mary is deeply Catholic. It seems unlikely that such words would have been deemed appropriate in the latter days of Henry VIII, even when he was having a more Catholic phase. Yet this text in nine sections each beginning with the word Gaude would have been just the sort of piece that Mary Tudor might have wanted to hear, one which could knit together both the old and new: a celebration of the world of her youth in its form and text and, through its very composition, a bedrock for her new Catholic order."

    In my opinion, this is one of the most impressive pieces composed by Thomas Tallis. The power and energy of this music is almost infinite. The text is a real praise to the Virgin, set in music in a way so passionate and devout, that really impresses.

    This version is absolutely wonderful. The Tallis Scholars are always a safe bet. The female voices and tenors here are absolutely incredible -like a dream-. The pitch, balance, sound and pronunciation are fantastic. This is a very complicated piece, but Peter Phillips and his singers performs this it as if it were really easy.
This is a classic album, one of the best with music by Tallis.

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