For the ordinary parish choir the Tudors do not provide much usable fare; there is an increasing number of choirs who can tackle the idiom but the music itself, being originally written for the cathedral service, does not readily fit into a modern parish church service. The Great Services are apt to be lengthy, complicated and difficult besides requiring well-trained singers in the individual parts, while the Short Services, being mere formal settings designed to get over the ground quickly, are not very elevating to listen to for present-day unmusical congregations, many of whom rightly claim a share in the singing of the canticles. For churches where the congregation do not claim this right and for cathedrals there is some simple work of much charm.
Of the settings of the mass one hears little but the Byrd trio in three, four and five parts, the last rarely. The three-part is perhaps the most tenderly moving piece of liturgical music in the whole repertory and provides one of the few instances of its composer working on a small canvas. Nothing so lovely as the Agnus dei (King's College choir, Cambridge: music details HERE.) has ever appeared from any pen. The four- and five-part settings show Byrd playing with long contrapuntal lines which need time for their development: the result is a trifle too lengthy but broad and majestic to those who have the patience to allow it to run its full course. As settings to be used on festive occasions they are ideal but their atmosphere demands a mass done with the full complement of servers and liturgical exercises, and they both need a choir of efficient cathedral standard.
One may say the same of the Great Services, which, even if the choir of the ordinary parish church tackled them, would hardly fit the scheme of parish church services. But the Great Services of Byrd (Tallis Scholars: music details HERE.) and Weelkes are noble if complicated settings and show their composers at their highest.
[Weelkes, Thomas (born between 1570 and 1580?died 1623). In 1600 he was organist of the 'Colledge at Winchester'. 1602, Mus.B. Oxford (New College) and soon after organist of Chichester. An out?standing writer of madrigals, ten services, all very incomplete but showing an interesting experimental mind, and about forty anthems, many in MS.]
The Short Services used are chiefly those of Byrd - five-part - and Gibbons, in F - four-part. Gibbons is less baldly chordal and indeed solves a problem Byrd never attempted, that of using contrapuntal means without becoming lengthy. The Gibbons setting in F is indeed little short of a marvel of reticent and quickly moving beauty. The chordal settings of Byrd perhaps look perhaps dull on paper; one must remember, however, that they are the forerunners of many such settings by seventeenth-century composers. They set out to be little more than written-out chant settings where the chant varies. To this simple idea Byrd brings a wealth of rhythmic invention and cadence variation (Sanctus - Tallis Singers: music details HERE.), which make the settings as lovely in their way as the old method of singing the canticles to a plainsong chant. They perhaps keep too obviously and humbly to the dictum of 'to every syllable a note', but they fit well into the service despite their dull appearance on the printed page and the type is traceable through the simple settings of Byrd's successors, Bevin, whose short service in the Dorian mode is often sung, Child, Rogers (settings in D, F and A-minor), Blow, Boyce and even Goss. Other excellent and useful Short Services are supplied by Richard Farrant (evening setting in A-minor, sometimes wrongly described and printed - first by Boyce - in G-minor), John Farrant (evening setting in D-minor) and Nathaniel Pattrick (service in G).
[Richard Farrant (date of birth unknown - died 1580). (Lord for thy tender mercy's sake) Before 1564, when he became Master of the Choristers at St George's Chapel, Windsor, he had been a Gentleman of the Chapel under Edward VI Re-appointed in 1569 to the Chapel Royal without relinquishing the Windsor appointment.]
[John Farrant (was living in 1600). Organist of Salisbury 1598-1602. John Farrants appear as organists of Christ Church, Newgate, Ely (1567-1572) and Hereford (1592-1593) though they - or he - are probably not the same man as the Salisbury Farrant.]
[Nathaniel Pattrick (date of birth unknown - died 1594-95). About 1590 he was Master of the Choristers at Worcester. Tomkins, his successor at Worcester, married his widow.]
Byrd's 'Second Service' is accompanied and roughly follows the old plainsong and faux-bourdon method: in place of the plainsong he gives a 'verse' to one of the voices following it by a verse set for chorus. The method is followed later in such services as Wise, in E-flat, Purcell, in G-minor, and the much later Walmisley, in D-minor; this type of strophic setting of the canticles has, indeed, nearly always produced interesting work.
It is fortunate for the normal four-voiced choirs of today that the Elizabethans have left a handful of pearls of great price, which even choirs of slender resources can tackle. Any choir which does not use them all is not doing its duty by the Tudor inheritance, unless it be a choir where altos and tenors are hard to come by; being in four parts instead of the normal five or six, they can be performed by any reasonable choir which is not afraid to sing unaccompanied. Tye's O come ye servants (Laudate nomen) is little more than a hymn-tune with a 'point' set in the middle, and the contemporary Lord, for thy tender mercy's sake of Hilton (in the edition by Fellowes or that of the Church Music Society) is similar; but both make a good beginning for attacks on the Tudor repertory. Tallis offers two little gems, If ye love me (Salisbury Cathedral choir: music details HERE.) - one of the few anthems of Tallis composed to English words - and O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit, and Byrd a deeply felt Ave verum corpus, (Westminster Cathedral choir: music details HERE.) while Weelkes provides in Let thy merciful ears a tender miniature of no great difficulty. The rest, if somewhat harder, are all beautifully wrought: Gibbons' Almighty and everlasting God and O Lord, increase my faith need certainty in the leads, a feeling for the beauty of the text and the power to deliver the word-rhythms. Lesser known composers are represented by Redford, Rejoice in the Lord, a fine work of some breadth and thus unique among the smaller works, for all the others exhale a more subdued atmosphere: Redford's work is buoyant and vigorous with its cross-rhythms and strong accents, and ends with a fine cadence on Amen; Farrant's Call to remembrance and Hooper's Teach me thy way strike a more thoughtful note while Mundy's O Lord, the maker of all thing (Rerum creator) matches its moving text so well in spirit that one is inclined to think it one of the most successful of all these four-part works.
[John Redford (approximate dates, 1485-1545). Chorister, vicar-choral and organist of St Paul's. The authenticity of Rejoice in the Lord has never been questioned; it is a remarkable production for its date.]
[Edmund Hooper (1553-1621). 1588, Master of the Children at Westminster. 1603?4, Gentleman of the Chapel. 1606, organist of Westminster. There are a handful of services and anthems. He contributed to Este's Whole Book of Psalms, 1592, and to Ravenscroft's Psalter, 1621.]
[William Mundy (date of birth unknown - died about 1591). Vicar-choral of St Paul's and 1563-4, Gentleman of the Chapel.]
The really representative work of the period is to be found in the larger anthems, which may be placed beside the madrigals as the finest products of a remarkable generation. A glance at the corpus of this music as found in the volumes of Tudor Church Music will show not only that it is impossible to consider all the works but that only a percentage of it can be tapped by our choirs. At its best it' can be as grand in its effect as a movement of a Beethoven symphony, and sung in its proper place and in the setting of the English service it is even more stirring; at its least effective, it is always consummate in technique and never in bad taste - which can be said of the worst work of no other period. Little purpose would be served by giving short reviews of a mere handful of works; we may perhaps get the best idea of the general corpus of Tudor work by studying the characteristics of the work of three of the great names of the period. [A list of works recommended for study will be found at the end of this chapter.]