Tye’s life and career straddled four reigns Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I, Elizabeth I or to put it another way his life and career straddled some of the most turbulent and dangerous decades of English history decades during which men like Tye were forced to decide which side of an increasingly vicious struggle for men's religious allegiances was being waged. These were decades during which the State sanctioned religion switched from the Catholic faith to a reformed one and back again repeatedly:
- Henry VII: Catholic to reformed Church of England.
- Edward VI: Protestant, Church of England became more profoundly protestant in both doctrines and practises.
- Mary I: Returned English church and state to Catholicism.
- Elizabeth I: Protestant monarch Catholic faith overthown in favour of reformed Church of England with Elizabeth as its supreme governor.
Tye survived all of this social, religious, and political tumult ending his career during the reign of Elizabeth I as a priest in the Diocese of Ely's famous Cathedral. His psalm motet Omnes gentes, plaudite manibus (O clap your hands together all ye people) is a bit difficult to date. Clearly we can eliminate the reign of Edward Vi (28 January 1547 – 6 July 1553) and the years of Tye's life during which Elizabeth I was queen regnant (17 November 1558 and March 1573 or a bit before that month). So it has to be either Henrician or Marian. I think it's most likely Marian, Mary I (bloody Mary as English protestants soon came to call her) reigned for five years from July 6th 1553 until her death on November 17th 1558 she was determined to restore the Catholic faith and so far as possible undo what she thought of as the damage done first by her father and then her brother to England and its people and to that end commissioned new works from English composers to adorn the Liturgy. The style of the motet also argues for it being a more mature work composed during Mary's five-year reign:
- First there's its triumphal and ebullient tone – exactly the sort of tone you would expect from a church celebrating its triumphant return under a Catholic monarch determined to root out heresy.
- Second it's a very tightly and concisely written piece of music with a driving duple metre rythmn which again suggests Mary's reign to me rather than Henry's.
Two final points before I go, the first is about the sound of the voices you'll hear – bright, clear, and glittering, this brilliant sound is only obtained where the voices particularly the treble and contratenor part maintain a high tessitura throughout. Such a sound is entirely appropriate to the text, which Tye's contemporaries whether they were Catholics or Anglicans associated with the Feast of the Ascension. However, this very high tessitura can be very difficult for modern trebles to attain and maintain not least because today's trebles voices tend to change somewhat younger than was the case in tudor times. Difficult, but not impossible, particularly when the choir in question is the Westminster Cathedral Choir who sing this and other renaissance polyphony as their daily bread and butter. Any singing of music from a different era involves compromises but this performance is as close to what Tye would have expected and wanted to hear as possible. It also happens to be very beautiful. Enjoy :-).
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