Robert White (±1538-1574): Tota pulchra es

tota puchra es

When Robert White died at the age of thirty six during one of the many outbreaks of plague that London was subject to at the time Robert Dow made a copy of all his motets and added this epitaph ‘Greatest glory of our muses, White: you perish, but your muse remains for ever’ nor was Dowland his only admirer as a very brief summary of his career after he graduated MusB from Cambridge on 13 December 1560 will show you. Within a less than fifteen years he’d held appointments as Master of the Choristers at Ely, then as Master of the Choristers of Chester Cathedral winding up as Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey shortly before Christmas 1569. Clearly this was a young man going places in a hurry.

His six-part (SATTBB) setting of Tota pulchra es (You are wholly beautiful) would have been composed during the reign of Mary I and sets one of the more colourful texts from the Song of Songs that were traditionally associated with the cult of The Virgin. Compared to the rest of his music which tends to have fairly dense textures with lots of imitation Tota pulchra es is rather unrestrained and  rather old-fashioned with the chant melody always present in the baritone part and a fairly expansive vocal range of F-g.  It may be a bit old-fashioned but it’s very beautiful with an expansiveness and a lyricism that makes me wish that White had lived far longer and produced far more music. Enjoy :-).


Robert White (±1538-1574): Tota pulchra es

Tota pulchra es amica mea,
et macula non est in te;
favus distillans labia tua,
mel et lac sub lingua tua;
odor unguentorum tuorum
super omnia aromata.
Iam enim hiems transiit,
imber abiit et recessit;
flores apparuerunt,
vineae florentes odorem dederunt,
et vox turturis audita est
in terra nostra.
Surge, propera, amica mea,
veni de Libano;
veni, coronaberis.

Song of Songs; antiphon for Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

You are wholly beautiful my love,
and in you there is no blemish;
your lips are a dripping honeycomb,
honey and milk under your tongue;
the smell of your perfumes
is sweeter than any scent.
For now the winter has passed,
the rain is over and gone;
flowers have appeared,
the vines in bloom give out their scent,
and the voice of the turtle dove is heard
in our land.
Get up and make haste my love,
and come from Lebanon;
come, and you will receive a crown.

English: Jeremy White © 2014

Performers: Magnificat directed by Philip Cave

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