Building A Library: First Choice
BBC Radio 3 - CD Review
"In Queene Elizabeths time there was a songe sent into England of 30 parts (whence the Italians obteyned the name to be called the Apices of the world) which beeinge songe mad[e] a heavenly Harmony. The Duke of ______ bearing a great love to Musicke asked whether none of our English men could sett as good a songe, & Tallice beinge very skillfull was felt to try whether he would undertake the Matter, which he did and mad[e] one of 40 p[ar]ts which was songe in the longe gallery at Arundell house which so farre surpassed the other th[a]t the Duke hearinge of the songe tooke his chayne of gold from of his necke & putt yt about Tallice his necke & gave yt him."
So goes the story of the composition of Spem in alium, Tallis's great motet for 40 voices, recorded here, in the round, by Magnificat.
Although Thomas Tallis is often (rightly) described as the father of English church music - that is, music to English texts, written for the Reformed rite - his early career of course took place in Catholic establishments, and he never lost his taste for Latin music, as the contents of this disc demonstrate very clearly. Although there are good grounds for thinking that the four-part mass may date from the reign of Queen Mary Tudor (1553 - 1558), when the Catholic rite was revived, the Lamentations and the other motets are certainly later, and therefore for different performance circumstances. Indeed, it is quite likely that Tallis did not merely have a taste for Latin music, but that he also had recusant sympathies (recusants were Catholics who refused to attend church in Elizabethan England)......
Certainly his life and music show a very clear involvement with the Catholic party, which, incidentally, was remarkably ubiquitous during Elizabeth's reign, with very large numbers of the nobility retaining their old religious affiliation. We first see this in Tallis's links with the Ropers, a strongly recusant Kentish family, who were clearly his patrons. Tallis's role as a protector of his pupil William Byrd should not be underplayed, for it was through the good offices of the Roper family that Byrd found somehere to live in the 1580s. It seems to have been through Tallis's influence that Byrd gained access to this circle, thus allowing Byrd's much more open recusancy to find its expression.
Having explained Tallis's recusant links, we have less difficulty in explaining the Latin music he wrote after about 1560, when there could have been little if any opportunity for performance as part of the English liturgy. Wherever else her religious and political sympathies (or duties) lay, Elizabeth clearly enjoyed and supported the music of both Byrd and Tallis: in 1575, Elizabeth issued letters-patent, granting them an exclusive licence to print and publich music. Later that year they jointly issued what was the first collection fo Latin motets ever published in England, the Cantiones quae ab argumento Sacrae vocantur. Each composer included seventeen motets (no doubt a tribute to this the seventeenth year of Elizabeth's reign). The motets on this recording all come from this publication.