Tallis' setting of the compline hymn Jesu salvator saeculi (Jesus, saviour of the age) is an alternim setting that alternates the chant and composed music retaining the cantus firmus in the top part. Under Sarum usage it would have been sung between low Sunday and Ascension it's typical of the new style of hymnody pioneered by Tallis and his contemporaries eschewing the massive polyphonic 'wall of sound' of earlier generations in favour of an elegant simplicity and textual clarity. Enjoy :-).
Ave Regina cælorum (Hail Queen of Heaven) is a Marian antiphon, which together with its following versicles and prayers, is traditionally appointed to be said or sung during the Liturgy of the Hours. It's particularly associated with Compline, the final canonical hour of prayer before going to sleep. It dates from at least the twelfth century and may well be older, nobody really knows. It's probably of monastic origin and as with many such pieces the identity of the text's author is unknown, some people have suggested that Herman Contractus could be the author but I've never seen anyone adduce any evidence to that effect. The basis of the suggestion seems to be "well he wrote Marian antiphons didn't he?" to which I can only reply "ummmmm well yes he did but you need to produce some sort of evidence that he wrote this one". Irrespective of who wrote it it became particularly popular during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance as a result of the widespread devotion to Our Lady of those times. The great Marian Antiphons and such beautiful folk Christmas Carols as "Maria Durch Ein Gingwald Ging" all spring from this period and its outpouring of love and veneration for Christ's mother.
Tallis' setting of the Compline respond is quite typical of his Elizabethan Latin Church music, it's beguiling in its simplicity and its beauty. Tallis' solution of what to do with this piece that could not be performed liturgically was elegant – he turned it into a motet.
Sheppard's music is not as popular as that of his contemporaries – I think this is a shame as he's right up there alongside his better-known contemporaries Taverner, Tye, White, and even Tallis. If you want to hear Tudor era music of breathtaking beauty and originality then Sheppard's compositions surely fit the bill. Media Vita is his undoubted masterpiece its sheer breadth of phrasing and expressiveness coupled with stunning sonorities and a remarkably deft hand with dissonance always stops me in my tracks. It's been recorded a few times – I think the most recent recording is by Stile Antico, but the recording below was the first and the one I find that I come back to time and time again.
To judge from the number of surviving copies of Taverner's Marian Antiphon "Gaude plurimum" – and their wide distribution, Taverner's contemporaries thought very highly of it. Marian antiphons such as this were devotional that is they were intended to be sung outside of (usually after) the Office (service) for which they were written. In this case the antiphon was intended to be sung after Compline, (Compline is the service of evening prayers said (or chanted) before retiring for the night). It's long – a bit under ¼ hour, which presented Taverner with the problem of how to provide both a structure and a sense of direction to the piece. He solved this problem by drawing upon a solution that had become almost traditional amongst Englsih composers, he created a structure by setting contrasting passages scored for scored for two or three voices and passages for five-part choir. This contrast provided the structure and sense of direction needed to keep the lenghty and somewhat unrestrained text under control. His scoring is very concentrated reserving melismas for the section endings.
It's performed here by The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers. Lyrics and a translation to English are below the fold. Enjoy :-).