In this the third and final posting in my series on Taverner's six-part festal Masses I discuss his 'Missa O Michael'. Like his other festal masses it gets its name from its cantus firmus, which in this case is the respond 'Archangeli Michaelis interventione' which was appointed to be sung before Mass on the feast of St Michael in Monte Tumba (16 October) when this fell on a Sunday. (It's worth your while listening to 'Archangeli Michaelis interventione' which you'll find in the highlight box.)
Click the player below to listen to 'Archangeli Michaelis interventione'
Text: Archangeli Michaelis interventione suffulti: te, Domine, deprecamur ut quos honore prosequimur, contingamus et mente.
Translation: Supported by the intervention of the Archangel Michael: we pray to you, O Lord, that we may touch in thought those whom we attend with honour.
It's probably an early work and given that the feast of St Michael in Monte Tumba fell on a Sunday 1513 and 1519 it was most likely composed in one or other of those two years. Hugh Benham panned it in his biography of Taverner "John Taverner: his life and music - Hugh Benham" saying that it was 'distinctly inferior', and so 'different from the rest of Taverner’s music for there to be doubts about its authenticity’.
I have to say that not only do I disagree with Benham, but that I'm puzzled as to how he arrived at the conclusion that it was 'distinctly inferior'. Granted it's not on the same scale as Taverner's other two six-part festal Masses, Gloria tibi Trinitas and Corona spinea but Missa O Michael is sufficiently impressive in its own right that it should be judged on its own terms. Furthermore Benham isn't comparing like with like. If you're going to compare 'Missa O Michael' with anything then what you need to compare it with is the music by Taverner's contemporaries – particularly the younger ones, found in the Eton Choirbook.
Click here to listen to the music and read the rest of the posting ...