Welcome to Harmonia Uncut, the podcast that brings you modern performances of very old music. I’m Wendy Gillespie. Of course, “modern” is all relative, and that is part of the point of this podcast. Today we’re going to set our time machine for 1993 and visit the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, MN. There the Waltham Abbey Singers, under the direction of the falsettist Brian Link, are performing music of Thomas Tallis.
Waltham Abbey, for which the ensemble is named, is a suburban market town in the county of Essex that takes its name from the former abbey that is now called the Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross. Thomas Tallis was resident there from 1538 until 1540, when it was the last working abbey to be dissolved by King Henry VIII.
The Cathedral of Saint Paul in MN is a gloriously huge space, with a prominent dome, designed at the turn of the century by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray – come to think of it, similar to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, designed by Christopher Wren. A cavernous building is to a choir what the body of a violin is to the violin and its acoustic must always be addressed as a friend. You are very unlikely to hear a professional recording anything like this, but it is a lot like what you would hear were you sitting in the congregation of either St. Paul’s in London or St. Paul’s in its eponymous city in MN.
Let’s begin with the 5-voice antiphon Salvator mundi, which Tallis set twice. Its Latin words translate as:
O Saviour of the world, save us,
who by thy cross and blood hast redeemed us,
help us, we pray thee, O Lord our God.
That was Thomas Tallis’ first setting of the antiphon Salvator mundi.
Tallis’ music gets much of its spiciness from his employment of the cross relation, where, for example, C# and C occur at the same time or in very close proximity. Here is his “I call and cry,” which gives English words to the motet “O sacrum convivium” for the Church of England crowd and may indeed predate the Latin motet.
The all-volunteer, but very professional, Waltham Abbey Singers performed Tallis’ five-voiced anthem “I call and cry” in 1993.
To end our visit to St. Paul’s, let’s hear Tallis’ Dum transisset, a responsory for Easter Sunday, whose words mean:
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. Alleluia.
And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun,
followed by the doxology “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.”
You’ve been listening to some of a recording of a 1993 concert by the twenty voice Waltham Abbey Singers. Many thanks to the director, Brian Link, for sharing this example of twentieth century early music performance history with us.
We’d be interested to hear what you think about anything you’ve heard on this podcast. You can find Harmonia on Facebook or leave a comment or question any time by visiting harmonia early music dot org. This has been the Harmonia Uncut podcast, and I’m Wendy Gillespie. Many thanks joining me!