Thomas Tallis was active across the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. He famously mastered all forms, old and new, as dictated by the changing religious landscape in 16th-century England. He died in 1585, very ancient and celebrated, and today is acknowledged widely as the Father of English Church Music. This programme traverses his political and religious styles through the turbulent reformations of the 1540s and ‘50s, beginning with his Latin works for the Henrician church to his responses to the introduction of the first English prayerbook in 1549. 

One of his greatest works is the six-part antiphon Gaude gloriosa dei mater, thought to have originally date from Mary Tudor’s reign. In the 1970s a fragment of the work was discovered in Oxford, only with unidentified English words, and, after painstaking research and reconstruction, the work has now been shown to originated much earlier in Tallis’s career. Here Alamire performs this English-texted version of Gaude gloriosa ‘See Lord and Behold’, which is now known to have been a joint project between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Tallis, and none other than Henry VIII’s last wife, Queen Katherine Parr, as a propaganda tool against the French in 1544. 

In the press

Exquisite… Alamire’s all-Tallis disc is fascinating not only for this anthem, Se [sic] Lord and Behold – it was discovered by the choir’s director, David Skinner, two years ago – but also as a document of some of the earliest liturgical music set to English texts: church music as anti-French propaganda. Alamire’s clean-toned delivery makes every word speak, and Fretwork’s viol consort pieces set the choral works effectively in relief. – The Guardian

Alamire is in matchless form here, rich, resonant and captured in the ideal reverberance of the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle. Just listen to the opening Gaude Gloriosa. Alamire’s red-blooded, dramatically dark reading will blow your socks off … Skinner’s attention to text brings out Tallis’s shapely lines and bold harmonies in an illuminating reading that leaves much of the competition standing. – Limelight Magazine, 5* review

That this extraordinary work was modelled on an even earlier version of Gaude gloriosa is clear, and it is now thought that Tallis’s original dates from his arrival at Canterbury three years previous. It must have caught the ears of the king and queen, and considered the perfect vehicle for Katherine’s evocative text. So much for the theory that Katherine Parr was the king’s nursemaid in his final years. She actually served as a highly effective PR agent. – David Skinner writing for BBC Music Magazine

David Skinner and Alamire start the disc with Tallis’ original Gaude gloriosa dei mater, a glorious performance which combines Alamire’s familiar clarity of line with sonorous vibrancy of tone. Skinner and his singers effortlessly bring this large scale (over 15 minutes) devotional antiphon alive. – Planet Hugill, 5* review

Watch David Skinner talking about his discovery on BBC Breakfast, or listen on the BBC Today Programme

Obsidian Records, CD715
Total Time: 75.36

Released: 2017

Alamire
Fretwork
Directed by David Skinner

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