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“I have heard, at midnight there was a cry made”
This haunting motet by Thomas Tallis begins in typical fashion of the English composer’s polyphonic style. In contrast, the unison sounding lines of plainchant sit piously meditating in amongst the more complex weaving tapestries of polyphony.
These two contrasting compositional techniques are a reflection of the Tudor period of which Tallis was the most prominent English composer of the time. His service to the crown spanned the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward I, Queen Mary and Elizabeth I. This was a time of religious conflict, with much fluctuation between Roman Catholicism and newly established Protestant practices. Tallis survived the changes by adapting his compositional style to suit the demands of each monarch and their respective religious views; the rich and complex polyphony belonging more to Catholic traditions, whilst the plain and comprehensible to the protestant.
Tallis’ music is one of the earliest surviving forms, largely due to the invention of the music printing press at around that time. Queen Elizabeth granted the composer, along with his apprentice William Byrd, a 21-year monopoly to patent, print and publish music. This is one of the earliest known arrangements of its kind and has ensured the survival and endurance of music from the period.
This arrangement was originally transcribed for and performed by the æðelfrith brass ensemble from London.
Note to performers:
Notice should be taken of the ‘hauptstimme’ (H) and ‘nebenstimme’ (N) markings used by the arranger to denote primary and secondary lines respectively. This marking, although introduced much later in music notation history than Tallis’ time, indicates where an ensemble member should lead and emerge from the texture.
The plainchant sections should be played relatively freely and softly; but phrased and articulated as indicated. It is possible to play the arrangement without these lines if desired. In the original four voice motet, they were indicated as optional additions.
Performance would be achievable by players of intermediate to advanced level and is suitable as material for ensemble training, requiring a high level of listening. It would be also suitable as a reflective moment in a recital programme, or as part of a church service.