"Robt. Parsons was drowned at Newark uppon Trent
the 25th of Januarie, and Wm. Bird sworne gentleman
in his place at the first the 22d of Februarie
followinge, A° 14° Lincolne".
We don’t know why Robert Parsons, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, was travelling near Newark on that fateful night in January 1572 but it seems likely that he was visiting the rectories in the area whose livings he had been granted. The grant of such livings was a sign of the esteem in which the monarch held him. What his fellow musicians thought of him is clear from a Latin couplet found in the Dow partbooks:
"Qui tantus primo Parsone in flore fuisti
Quantus in autumno ni morere fores.
Parsons, you who were so great in the springtime
of life, how great you would have been in the
autumn, had death not come."
His setting of the Magnificat is in the tradition of the Eton Choirbook and must have been composed during the reign of Queen Mary I for performance during Vespers because:
1: It’s in Latin.
2: There’s no accompanying ‘Nunc DImittis’ which would have been required if he’d composed it for the Anglican service of Evensong.
3: Stylistically it’s in the tradition of the Eton Choirbook.
Given that he composed it during Mary’s reign it’s an early work but this by no means means that it’s lacking in beauty or polish, far from it, it’s a sublime piece of music that proudly stands alongside the settings of such luminaries as Robert Fayrfax, Nicholas Ludford and John Taverner. It’s a six-part setting that uses the traditional alternating plainsong and polyphony and makes use both of lenghty divisions — called ‘gimells’ and of canons (where one or more parts will repeat exactly a melody sung by an opening voice).
These canons are quite sophisticated and can clearly be heard in the sections:
• ‘Quia fecit mihi magna …’ (triplex and contratenor II),
• ‘et sanctum nomen eius …’ (tenor and medius),
• ‘et semini eius in saecula …’ (bassus and medius), and the three part canon at
• ‘Sicut erat in principio …’
It’s a curious blend of old and new because while Parsons clearly has compositions of the type found in the Eton choir book in mind for example the melismatic writing for the solo lines that he contrasts with the full-choir sections there’s no cantus firmus and he doesn’t give much attention to the plainchant melody. He also makes considerable use of symetry and he uses the canons I listed above to develop his themes in such a way that there’s a clear sense of forward movement throughout. He ends with a quite dramatic ‘Amen’ in which the bass and tenor parts are engage in a thematic dialogue whilst the other parts weave a musical covering as though it were a polyphonic baldachin above them. Enjoy :-).
Video and description Source: Robert Parsons (circa 1535-1572) Magnificat – YouTube Published on 17 Sep 2013 by markfromireland
Text & Translations: Magnificat
|Latin||Modern English||Traditional Translation|
Magnificat anima mea Dominum.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Luke 1: 46-55
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Saviour.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;