Sunday Playlist: John Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas

Interior looking up Stump tower of St Botolphs Church Boston Lincolnshire captioned

For this the second in my series on Taverner’s Festal Masses I’ve chosen to write about his beautiful and hugely influential ‘Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas’. John Taverner was appointed Informator Choristarum (director of music, literally ‘instructor of choristers’) of Cardinal College, Oxford in 1526, his brief was to make it the foremost choral institution in England. He succeeded at this task his period at Cardinal College was intensely busy and creative during which he wrote music possessed both of emotional depth and drama. It is music which remains rich and vibrant to this day.

Taverner’s Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas ("Glory to you, O Trinity" Mass) belongs to this period (1526 – 9), and is the most elaborate of his festal Masses. Musically it was very influential, not only did it appear frequently in  contemporary musicians’ anthologies but it remained influential right up to Purcell’s time.  In fact the grace and beauty of the section of the Benedictus beginning at ‘In nomine Domini‘, was the impetus for an entire new genre of music that became very important in English music – the ‘In Nomine‘. (Some idea of the importance and popularity of  ‘In nomines‘ can be gleaned from the fact that Grove cites the existence of over 150 surviving examples by some 58 composers from Taverner to Purcell).

It gets its name from the plainchant cantus firmus ‘Gloria tibi Trinitas’,

Cantus firmus: "Gloria Tibi Trinitas, aequalis, una Deitas et ante omnia saecula, et nunc et in perpetuum."

("Glory to you, Holy Trinity, equal in Persons, one God, before all ages, now and forever").

(First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, first Antiphon).

a plainsong antiphon to the first Psalm sung at Lauds and Second Vespers on Trinity Sunday, and was composed during Taverner’s tenure at Cardinal College. It’s scored for treble, mean (the term originally meant the middle part of a three-voice polyphonic texture between the treble and tenor), two countertenors, tenor and bass. In this Mass Taverner uses the cantus firmus – the pre-existing melody, less freely than in his setting of the  Western Wind Mass (you can read about and listen to that Mass here: Sunday Playlist: Taverner "Westron Wynde" | Saturday Chorale). In  Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas it occurs three times in the Gloria, Credo and Sanctus and twice in the Agnus Dei. Throughout the Mass, with the exception of the remarkably beautiful ‘In nomine’ passage  where it is given complete, the chant is broken down into its four component phrases each of which is treated as an entity.

An unusual aspect of this Mass is that the chant is sung, not by the tenors as one would expect but by the means. Moreover Taverner omits the chant completely in places substituting some elaborately beautiful lines for the treble voice (there’s a wonderful example of this in the treble duet in the Agnus Dei). Another technique that Taverner uses is that each of these section starts with the same musical motif and ends with a coda where the chant is re-stated but this time in shorter note lengths than before. The effect of this is to create the sense of a tremendous burst of musical energy – for example at the end of the Gloria.

For this posting I’ve picked the performance by The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford first because they sing it beautifully and secondly because as Stephen Darlington wrote: ‘The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral’s recording is the first to use the original forces of men and boys as envisaged by the composer’. It’s still fairly rare for boys to be recorded singing early Tudor church music of this complexity there are many reasons for this not least the strain of a tessitura that is far higher than modern choristers are used to but they rise to the occasion magnificently. You’ll find the music video, texts, and translations below. Enjoy :-).


Text: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas

Movement 1: Gloria

Gloria tibi Trinitas aequalis, una Deitas,

et ante omnia saecula, et nunc, et in perpetua.

Gloria in excelsis Deo

et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

Laudamus te. Benedicimus te.

Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.

Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.

Domine Deus, rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens,

Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe,

Domine Deus, agnus Dei, Filius Patris,

qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis;

qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram;

qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus sanctus. Tu solus Dominus.

Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe.

Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

Glory to you, O equal Trinity, single Godhead,

before all ages, now, and for ever.

Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace to men of good will.

We praise you. We bless you.

We adore you. We glorify you.

We give you thanks for your great glory.

Lord God, king of heaven, God the Father almighty,

Lord, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ,

Lord God, lamb of God, Son of the Father,

you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;

you who take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;

you who sit at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

For you only are holy. You only are Lord.

You only are most high, Jesus Christ.

With the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Movement 2: Credo

Credo in unum Deum,

Patrem omnipotentem,

factorem caeli et terrae,

visibilium omnium, et invisibilium.

Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,

Filium Dei unigenitum,

et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula,

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,

Deum verum de Deo vero,

genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri,

per quem omnia facta sunt.

Qui propter nos homines, et propter nostram salutem

descendit de caelis.

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine,

et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato,

passus et sepultus est.

Et resurrexit tertia die, secundum scripturas.

Et ascendit in caelum:

sedet ad dexteram Patris.

Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,

iudicare vivos et mortuos:

cuius regni non erit finis.

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum,

et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

I believe in one God,

Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all visible and invisible things.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten son of God,

born of the Father before all ages,

God from God, light from light,

true God from true God,

begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father,

by whom all things were made.

Who for us men, and for our salvation,

came down from heaven.

And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit through the virgin Mary,

and was made man.

He was also crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

he died and was buried.

And on the third day he rose again according to the scriptures.

And ascended into heaven:

he sits at the right hand of the Father.

And he will come again with glory to judge

the living and the dead:

there will be no end to his kingdom.

And I await the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Movement 3: Sanctus and Benedictus

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.

Hosanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Movement 4: Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,

miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,

miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,

dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world,

have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world,

grant us peace.

3 thoughts on “Sunday Playlist: John Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas

  1. Superb presentation,especially the Benedictus, I cannot remember ever hearing anything comparable. Wonderful performance by Christ Church Cathedral Choir, truly Celestial. Thank you, Mark, for posting this masterpiece for Trinity Sunday.
    Many Blessings,
    Br. John

    • It’s a stunning rendition of some transcendentally beautiful music. I’m glad you found it worthwhile. And thanks for all you do.


  2. Hi Mark — thank you for the lovely Taverner.

    I’m writing as an alumnus of Christ Church, Oxford, to note that “Christ Church Cathedral” is not only the cathedral of the Oxford diocese (Anglican), but also our college chapel, and thus your choice of its choir is triply apt, since today’s “Christ Church, Oxford” is none other than Taverner’s “Cardinal College” — founded by Cardinal Woolsey, and still hearing his cardinal’s hat in its coat of arms:

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