Alamire have announced that its 14 April concert at the St John’s Smith Square Holy Week Festival will now include an extensive work by Thomas Tallis that has not been heard for over 450 years.
In 1978 an extraordinary discovery was made behind plasterwork in the walls of Corpus Christi College, Oxford: music from Thomas Tallis’s grandest motet Gaude gloriosa, but with unidentified English words (see attached image). The discovery remained more or less dormant until David Skinner recently identified the text as being by none other than Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen Katherine Parr. The words are from her psalm paraphrase ‘Against Enemies’ in her first publication Psalms or Prayers, published in London in 1544. Parr’s work was published in tandem with Thomas Cranmer’s Litany, which was the first departure from the Roman rite in Henry’s reign, though we have known very little of its actual liturgical use until now.
All was part of Henry’s famous war effort against the Scots and French in 1544; the English Litany was adopted so that the population might stand up and pray the King into battle — and for the first time in English — later that summer. Skinner also discovered that the Litany, Parr’s text (set to music by Tallis), alongside the composer’s 5-part Litany (also now to be performed in the Festival) were first performed following an elaborately orchestrated series of events at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, which culminated on 23 May 1544 with a procession and sermon. Queen Katherine Parr, via the Chapel Royal singers, acted as Henry VIII’s mouthpiece with her evocative war-like text ‘See, Lord, and behold’, with sentiments such as ‘they are traitors and rebels against me’ and ‘let the wicked sinners return unto hell, and let them fall and be taken down into the pit which they have digged’! For the first time we can now suggest a specific date which marks the beginning of the English liturgical reformation — 23 May 1544 at St Paul’s Cathedral — which quite predates the introduction of the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549.
“These discoveries are not only significant for cultural historians, but also fundamentally challenge our perceptions of Tallis’s music and chronology and open up many fascinating avenues for further research in the years to come. We are delighted to share all on 14 April, Good Friday, at St John’s Smith Square!” said David Skinner
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