This five-part (SAT[Bar]B) Latin-texted setting of the Song of Simeon is found only in the Baldwin partbooks. The fact that it’s in Latin presents problems for musical historians with tidy minds because, being in Latin, he surely wouldn’t have composed it during Edward VI’s sternly protestant reign when composers with Catholic sympathies were keeping their heads down lest they lose them. But that still leaves open the possibility that he composed it either before the 1559 reintroduction of the English version of the Book of Common Prayer or after the authorised appearance of the Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer the Liber precum publicarum, which was published a year later in 1560.
As the language doesn’t help us we have to turn to the music’s style and form to help us date it and here we’re on somewhat firmer ground. For a start Tallis follows the practice common on the Continent and in England during the reign of Henry VII of setting alternatim. Moreover the music itself isn’t quite as smooth and polished as you would expect from music by Tallis that can be dated to Mary’s reign or later. When I take this stylistic evidence and combine with the absence of both a cantus firmus and a fauxbourdon I start thinking that perhaps this was an "experimental" piece by a young composer seeing what he could do. My feeling that it’s an "experimental" piece is further strengthened by the absence of melismatic writing and the absence of any solo sections. So, written as a musical exercise by a young composer beginning to flex his musical wings late during Henry’s reign. Don’t let the fact that it’s an early work put you off – it’s a delightfully exuberant piece of music and this exuberance reflects Simeon’s joy that he has seen his saviour. Enjoy :-)
Thomas Tallis (±1505-1585): Nunc dimittis a 5
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
Luke 2: 29-32
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
- Contrapunctus conducted by Owen Rees.