Richard Pygott (±1485 – 1549): Quid petis, O fili?

Holy Family with Music Making Angels

Painting: Holy Family with Music Making Angels
Artist: Attributed to the Master of Frankfurt
Date: Circa 1515
Technique: Oil on wood panel
Location: Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

As with so many Tudor era composers information about Pygott’s early life is  scarce, what we do know about him is that he was taken up by Cardinal Wolsey and that by 1517 he had risen to be Master of the Children in Thomas Wolsey’s household chapel. He came to the notice of Henry VIII who considered Wolsey’s choir to be better than his and praised Pygott for how well he had trained a chorister who had transferred from Wolsey’s household to the royal one. Wolsey rewarded Pygott with pensions from Bridlington Priory in 1526 and Whitby Abbey a year later in 1527. Pygott was evidently both grateful and loyal because he remained in the cardinal’s household until Wolsey’s death in disgrace and in danger of being put to death by the king he had served so well. Shortly after his patron’s death Pygott became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. Henry VIII was obviously pleased with him because he presented him with various livings and properties including one in Greenwich that had previously been occupied by William Cornysh he remained a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal until his death in 1549 although it appears he had mostly retired by then.

His music is interesting, very polished, and quite often shows considerable musical imagination it compares favourably with Taverner’s music although I think it fair to say that Taverner’s music has a greater sense of forward motion and he integrates his melodies more fully. Quid petis, O fili? is interesting because it’s a carol. As we saw during Advent the English medieval carol had a particular form:

Carols em­er­ged in En­gland dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages they were re­lated in form to the French dance songs cal­led Caroles and were eith­er in Latin, or En­glish, or were macaronic – a mix of the two. Their struc­ture was both dis­tinctive and rigid with the sing­ers al­ter­nat­ing bet­ween a re­frain cal­led the "burd­en" and stan­zas and could be on any sub­ject, but were most­ly about the Vir­gin or the Saints of Christmas for ex­am­ple. 1

These carols were popular music and were often considered by the clerical and musical establishment to be crude and tending to encourage excessively boisterous performance by the laity notwithstanding this disapproval carols were so popular that somebody as firmly embedded in the establishment as Pygott composed carols using their mixture of sacred and profane, Latin and vernacular,burden and verse for performance at the courts of his patrons. There’s some very nice imitative writing in the burden and first verse that Pygott sets off by using rests before reverting to a more traditional style of imitation in the remaining verses. Enjoy :-)

mfi

Richard Pygott (±1485 – 1549): Quid petis, O fili?

Performers: The Choir of Christ Church, Oxford. Directed by Stephen Darlington
Soloists: John Cotton, Tim Dallosso, Tom King, Brian Chapman, Gabriel Vick, William Gaunt, Timothy Whiteley, Angus Wilson

Quid petis, O fili?

Quid petis, O fili?
Mater dulcissima baba.
O pater, O fili,
michi plausus oscula dada.
(What seekest Thou, O my son?
The sweetest mother kisses.
O father, O my Son.
Clapping hands, give me kisses.)

The mother, full mannerly, and meekly as a maid
Looking on her little son, so laughing in lap laid.
So prettily, so pertly, so passingly well apay’d
Full softly and full soberly unto her sweet son she said:
Quid petis, O fili?

Mater dulcissima baba.
O pater, O fili,
michi plausus oscula dada.
I mean this by Mary, our Maker’s Mother of might
Full lovely looking on our Lord, the lantern of light.
Thus saying to our Saviour; this saw I in my sight;
This reason that I rede you now, I rede it full right.

Quid petis, O fili?
Mater dulcissima baba.
O pater, O fili,
michi plausus oscula dada.

Musing on her manners so nigh marr’d was my main,
Save it pleased me so passingly that past was my pain;
Yet softly to her sweet son, me-thought I heard her sain:
Now gracious God and good sweet babe,
yet once this game again:
Quid petis, O fili?
Mater dulcissima baba.
O pater, O fili,
michi plausus oscula dada.

(Text anon., source: British Library MS Additional 31922
Chorus translation adapted from M.E. Rickert, 1871–1938)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *