miércoles, 29 de octubre de 2014

The Choir Project al día | 25-X-2014

Thomas Tallis [c. 1505-1585]: Dum transsiset sabbatum à 5.
Alamire | David Skinner.
English polyphony in Madrid | Celebrating new album of the amazing ensemble Alamire.

  Paul Doe and David Allinson wrote:
«I. Life

  Although no record of his childhood has been found, Tallis must have been born in the first decade of the 16th century probably in Kent, the county with which he had lifelong professional and family connections. His earliest known documented appearance is in the accounts for 1530–31 of the modest Benedictine priory of Dover, which record that a ‘Thomas Tales’, the ‘joculator organorum’ (organist), had received an annual salary of £2 (see Haines). His name appears among the general household staff; no other musicians are listed and it is likely that the priory’s resources for the performance of polyphony were sparse. Perhaps Tallis was able to draw upon the singers employed by Dover’s nearby parent monastery, Christ Church, Canterbury, which boasted lavish musical provision. Dover Priory was dissolved in 1535 and there is no record of Tallis’s departure; we next encounter him in London, where his name appears on the 1537 and 1538 payrolls of the church of St Mary-at-Hill, noted for its music. Whether he was a singer or the organist is not stated. Tallis undoubtedly came into contact with some of England’s foremost musicians during his time at St Mary-at-Hill; he may also have come to the attention of the abbot of Holy Cross, Waltham, whose London residence stood nearby, for towards the end of 1538 he moved to Waltham Abbey in Essex, becoming one of the most senior members of the extensive musical foundation there. Unfortunately for Tallis the abbey was dissolved on 23 March 1540 (it was the last monastic foundation to fall); as a relative newcomer he was not granted a pension, instead being paid off with 20s. in outstanding wages and 20s. ‘reward’. He seems to have taken with him a volume of musical treatises copied by John Wylde, a former preceptor of the abbey; the book has the autograph ‘Thomas Tallys’ on its last page (GB-Lbl Lansdowne 763).

  Tallis returned to East Kent, finding employment at Canterbury Cathedral, which was being refounded as a secular establishment with a much expanded choir of ten boys and twelve men. An undated list of staff recruited to the new establishment (Canterbury, Dean and Chapter Library, MS D.E.164; probably from summer 1540) lists Tallis first among the singing men. He appears in the cathedral records of 1541 and 1542 but not in 1543, the year in which he probably began to serve full-time at the court as a member of the Chapel Royal (he may have been helped in securing the position by Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury). Although there is no record of his enrolment at court, Tallis’s name appears on a lay subsidy roll of 1544, and in a document of about 1545 (Lbl Stowe 571) his name is 16th in a list of 32. In a petition of 1577 Tallis claimed to have ‘served yo[u]r Ma[jes]tie and yo[u]r Royall ancestors these fortie yeres’, implying that his association with the court may have begun even during his employment at St Mary-at-Hill.

  Tallis remained in the royal household until his death, serving under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and finally for more than half of the reign of Elizabeth I. He undoubtedly acted as an organist throughout this period, but was not so designated until after 1570. As an organist his duties would have included the rehearsal of the singing-men. Harley has speculated that Tallis shared with the Master of the Children, Richard Bower, responsibility for training the boys, probably at this time including William Byrd, with Bower teaching singing and Tallis keyboard and composition. However, he had always been active as a composer as well, and in the middle decades of the century the provision of new vocal polyphony for the royal chapels must have occupied much of his time and earned him great prestige. In 1557 Queen Mary granted to Tallis and Bower jointly a 21-year lease of the Kentish manor of Minster in Thanet, with the considerable annual income of £91 12s. The royal household accounts for the first year of Elizabeth’s reign contain the entry ‘In bonis Thomas Talys … 40li’, which has been thought to record a gift of this amount, but which is more likely to represent an assessment for the purposes of a subsidy or forced loan to the queen, and confirms that Tallis was living in fairly comfortable circumstances at the time. Rapid inflation had evidently changed that situation by the time Byrd joined the Chapel Royal in 1572, for in 1573 the two men petitioned the queen for some source of additional income. On 22 January 1575, she responded by granting them an exclusive licence to print and publish music, the letters-patent issued for this purpose being among the first of their kind in the country (seeillustration; printed in full in E.H. Fellowes: William Byrd, 2/1948, p.7). Later that year there duly appeared the Cantiones sacrae, an anthology of Latin motets to which Tallis and Byrd each contributed 17 compositions, perhaps in reference to the 17th year of Elizabeth’s reign. Financially the undertaking was a failure, for a second petition followed in 1577 resulting in the grant of a joint lease to the two composers of crown lands with annual rents totalling £30.

  In or around 1552 Tallis married a woman named Joan, who survived him by nearly four years. There is no evidence that they had any children (Tallis’s will mentions a cousin, John Sayer, living in the Isle of Thanet, but neither his nor his wife’s will gives much evidence of other family connections). During later life, like many of the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, Tallis lived in Greenwich, probably in a rented house close to the royal palace (tradition holds that he lived in Stockwell Street). Whether Tallis ever owned his house in Greenwich is uncertain (Joan’s will of 1587 describes her home as ‘lately purchased’). The Bodleian Register and the Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal disagree as to the date of Tallis’s death, the former giving 20 November 1585 and the latter 23 November. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church of St Alfege; his epitaph, lost in the subsequent rebuilding of the church, was recorded by Strype in his Continuation of Stowe’s Survey of London. (The texts of the epitaph, and of both wills, are printed in TCM, vi, 1928, pp.xv ff; the wills are also printed in Harley, Appx C.)

  The potential significance of the first bequest in Joan Tallis’s will (‘to mr Anthony Roper esquier one guilte bowle with the cover therunto belonginge in respect of his good favors shewed to my late husband and mee’) has been persuasively argued by Bennett. He has shown that the beneficiary was almost certainly the grandson of the Catholic martyr Thomas More and member of one of Kent’s most influential – and most notoriously recusant – families, Anthony Roper (c1535–1597). As Bennett has commented, ‘The phrase “good favours” suggests that Roper and Tallis were linked in some sort of patron/client relationship’ (p.42), the possibilities including links at Canterbury and at the court. Bennett concluded that Tallis and the Ropers might have had a similar relationship to that which Byrd enjoyed with his patrons the Petres.

  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of such a relationship would be the potential religious connections; Roman Catholic Masses were certainly celebrated at the family chapel at Well Hall, Eltham, less than three miles from Greenwich. Musicologists have disagreed about Tallis’s religious convictions: he has been variously claimed as a Protestant, a Catholic and (most usually) a pragmatist who avoided religious controversy. However, Bennett’s speculations, taken with other evidence such as Tallis’s long and fruitful association with the ardently recusant Byrd (and indeed Byrd’s choice of Tallis as godfather to his son), and the heartfelt expressivity of late works such as In jejunio et fletu and the Lamentations, may shift the balance of plausibility towards a view of Tallis as a committed Catholic who never relinquished his faith, however equably he served his successive regal and ecclesiastical paymasters.

II. Music

  Tallis’s compositional career spanned decades of unprecedented political and religious turbulence whose effect on English music was profound. Musical genres and styles declined, mutated or were invented afresh in response to the liturgical and doctrinal demands of the moment. From extended votive antiphons such as Salve intemerata to succinct Anglican service music, Tallis’s diverse output covers almost every musical genre used in the English church during the 16th century. However, style was not determined only by religious circumstances: it is likely that the profound differences between ostensibly early and late works of Tallis (for example, the reduction in melismatic writing and the corresponding growth in chordal homophony, and the tendency for imitation to become less decorative and more structural) may be attributed equally to the influence of continental musical developments on the native style. In this way, political and artistic imperatives converged to change the style of Tallis and many of his contemporaries.

  The secret of Tallis’s success in surviving – not to say thriving – during such a period of turmoil lay in his combination of pragmatism and perfectionism. He was happy to turn good material to new purposes (as in his revision of Gaude gloriosa Dei mater from an English-texted anthem to a Latin-texted antiphon, on which see below; or the conversion of instrumental fantasias into motets such as O sacrum convivium and Salvator mundi (ii)); he moved flexibly between genres, invoking old-fashioned or progressive features as circumstances demanded, and during the middle years of the century he must have moved rapidly between these idioms (from simple anthems such as the homophonic Remember not to ambitious and lengthy votive antiphons such as Gaude gloriosa Dei mater). His perfectionism is revealed by his habit of revising his compositions, sometimes at a level of mere detail but often on a large scale; these ‘second thoughts’ are revealed by disparities between manuscript sources, or between manuscript versions and those published in the Cantiones sacrae of 1575 (see Milsom, 1983 and 1988). Tallis’s lack of complacency meant that even in his old age he continued to develop his musical language and to explore compositional problems, and not only in the obvious sense of meeting the logistical and technical challenges of writing for 40 voices in Spem in alium. Derelinquit impius and In jejunio et fletu – perhaps his last motets, written around his 70th year – are highly original essays in a harmonically conceived, chromatically inflected expressive style that reveal a startlingly fertile imagination.

  Many of Tallis’s works, especially those Latin-texted compositions that are of an ostensibly early date, have survived in sources that are remote from their date of composition and the circumstances of performance, making the establishing of a chronology of the composer’s music extremely difficult. The work of John Milsom (1983) represents the most thoroughgoing and convincing attempt to order and date Tallis’s works on the basis of external (source) and internal (stylistic) evidence. Despite the problem of dating Tallis’s works and the bewildering variety of genres to which he contributed, his musical personality is consistent (the very earliest works aside): his compositions are supremely crafted, with a knowing sense of where to place a dissonance; in performance the effect is often one of muted richness. In his Latin-texted works Tallis transmuted the inherited musical language of pre-Reformation England and in adapting it contributed to its survival for another generation; in his Anglican music he established the formal and stylistic norms of an entirely new repertory that, under reforming pressures, might have fallen into drabness. Through all its changes the English court and Church were fortunate to have the music of Tallis as their ornament.»

  Live concert at Fundación Juan March, Madrid, past 10-X-2012. In this concert, the British ensemble and northamerican conductor performed music by Pycard, Walter Lambe, Robert Fayrfax, Johan Taverner, Christopher Tye, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, on a wonderful journey through the history of the English Renaissance polyphony.

Enjoy this and the complete concert.

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