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ClassicsOnline Home » TYE: Missa Euge Bone / MUNDY: Magnificat
Early Music News
Christopher Tye (c. 1505 - c. 1572)
William Mundy (c. 1529 - c.1591)
Time can inflict strange contortions on a person's reputation. It can leave us with small, intensely vivid stories which, in association with a select number of facts, can topple someone's life into the realm of the mythical. Everyone likes a good story - and about Christoper Tye we have a great one, courtesy of the chronicler Anthony Wood. Tye was a "humorous man" - by which we must understand he was brimful of bile and cholic rather than partial to the ready quip - who played the organ for services attended by Queen Elizabeth. The Queen, thinking his music contained "little delight to the ear", sent the verger "to tell him that he play'd out of tune: whereupon he sent word that her ears were out of Tune." The image is of a crotchety old retainer who, from the vantage point of his organ-stool, saw monarchs with their own liturgical and musical predilections come and go while he remained.
The truth revealed by the myth is that Tye worked for much of his life in close contact with the Tudor monarchy. After his education at Cambridge, which earned him a doctorate, the patronage of Dr Richard Cox brought him to court to tutor the young Prince Edward, while still being able to hold the job of Master of Choristers at Ely Cathedral. If we are to believe Samuel Rowley's seventeenth-century play When you see me you know me, then Tye's duties at court extended to entertaining King Henry as well. In Rowley's play Prince Edward is made to say to Tye: "I oft have heard my father merrily speak in your high praise; and thus his highness saith: England one God, one Truth, one Doctor hath for music's art, and that is Doctor Tye, admired for skill in music's harmony." During Edward's reign Tye probably served in the Chapel Royal alongside Tams and, after leaving his job at Ely somewhat nepotistically to his son-in-law Robert White and taking up holy orders, he divided his time between the court and the several affluent parishes in his charge, until his death around 1572.
Time has similarly done Tye's music a disservice. His musical settings of English texts for the reformed liturgy survive well in comparison to his Latin church music of which we only seem to have received about a half. What we do have, however, shows a composer ready to adapt to those monarchs' predilections and the tastes of the time. In his Western wynde and Euge bone Masses, and in the large-scale antiphon Peccavimus cum patribus, he demonstrates the sense of scale and melismatic freedom one finds in the Latin music of Tams and Sheppard, and yet, like these two, he could compose small English anthems of attractive simplicity.
Indeed it is the range of styles Tye has at his disposal that makes the Missa Euge bone so unusual. The Sanctus, for instance, opens with a simple, dramatic declaration of the three "holies" followed by a passage of closely imitative polyphony. And the four Agnus Dei petitions offer extraordinary variety (Tye provides the performer with a choice of which to omit -we have left out the first). The second is written for the four lower parts, the third splits the two highest voices into four over an ostinato tenor (this scoring of four high voices against a low one is the ultimate English polyphonic luxury), while the fourth returns to the full texture of the Sanctus. Tye's imitative style stands out against his English contemporaries as being particularly tightly woven. The end of the Missa Euge bone is a good example, as is the motet Omnes gentes plaudite manibus, and while the description "continental" may be a little too nebulous, the effect of the writing is that clearer, syllabic exposition of text for which many continental composers strived. This may partly be explained by the circumstances of composition of these two works. We know that the reformist attitudes of Cranmer and King Edward encouraged music in which the text could be clearly heard, but it is very unlikely that Edward's court entirely banned church music in Latin. Omnes gentes could well have been written for a ceremonial occasion in Edward's reign at which there would have been courtiers and diplomats who did not share the King's religious views. As for the Mass, Paul Doe has suggested a connection between it and a motet Quaesumus omnipotens closely connected with the reign of Edward. In which case the good and humble servant of the Mass title refers not to a pre-existent polyphonic model, but collectively to the court, faithful to God and to a new regime. The oddness of Peccavimus might similarly be explained by its environment. Although modelled on the elaborate Marian antiphons of the earlier Tudor period, it sets a penitential text, an improvisation on Psalm 106 which, like Tallis's Sancte Deus, petitions Jesus rather than Mary. Such was the preference of the Henrician court by the end of the reign, where the atmosphere was of cultured distaste for the extravagances of Popery rather than the recognition of substantial theological divisions with Roman Catholicism.
William Mundy's career at St Paul's Cathedral and at the Chapel Royal also brought him close to the centre of power. His output provides a warning to all those intent on categorizing Latin church music as elaborate, and the English music of the Reformation as correspondingly simple. Mundy's nine-voice English setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis compares in scale to anything in the Eton Choirbook, and by comparison the Latin Magnificat recorded here is anaemic. Except that it is not, for when Mundy is allowed the space to expand his material, as here and in the Kyrie, he finds an idiom of unhurried polyphony, weaving points of some length and varied by changes in scoring, which belies the reputation he has gained in some quarters as a composer of unimaginative English canticle settings. The demands of genre made on Tudor composers released as much as they constrained.
The Oxford Camerata was formed by Jeremy Summerly in order to meet the growing demand for choral groups specializing in music from the Renaissance era. It has since expanded its repertoire to include music from the medieval period to the present day using instrumentalists where necessary. The Camerata has made several recordings for Naxos, and future plans include discs of music by Hildegard and Dufay.
Jeremy Summerly was a choral scholar at New College, Oxford, from where he graduated in 1982. For the next seven years he worked as a Studio Manager with BBC Radio and it was during this time that he founded the Oxford Camerata. In 1989 he left the BBC in order to join the Royal Academy of Music as a lecturer in the department of Academic Studies and in 1990 he was appointed conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford. He has recently signed a long-term contract with Naxos to record a variety of music with the Oxford Camerata and Schola Cantorum of Oxford.
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TYE: Missa Euge Bone / MUNDY: Magnificat