O splendor gloriae: Sacred Music of Tudor England


This recording offers a survey of Latin-texted sacred music from 16th-century England by four of that country’s greatest composers. Each responded to the religious, political, and musical upheavals of the era in his own personal and artistic way. Together they created a large, varied, and unique repertory bearing a distinctly English sound.

John Taverner (c. 1490-1545) was the most important composer of the first half of the 16th century. He was the first director of music at the newly established Cardinall College from 1525 to 1530. Taverner’s music bridges the gap between the complex, florid style of the Eton Choirbook composers of the late-15th century and the simpler, imitative style of the later mid-16th century composers, including Thomas Tallis and John Sheppard. His work is characterized above all by a sweeping melodic lyricism.

The Easter responsory Dum transisset Sabbatum is likely the first “choral” responsory, in which the chant passages sung by the entire choir are set polyphonically. (The older “solo” responsory, on the other hand, includes polyphony for the chant passages sung by solo voices.) Taverner’s setting may well have inspired the large repertory of choral responsories subsequently composed by Tallis and Sheppard, of which the former’s Loquebantur variis linguis is an example.

The Leroy (Anglicized “Le Roi”) Kyrie is based on a melody known as a “square,” which Taverner paraphrases in the treble part throughout. Because the Kyrie, according to England’s Sarum rite, included troped (added) texts that changed per the liturgical calendar, this movement of the ordinary of the Mass was not regularly set polyphonically as part of multi-movement Mass settings. Taverner’s discrete, four-voice setting may have been intended for use at Sunday Lady Mass—a votive Mass sung in honor of the Virgin Mary—when the “Leroy” square was prescribed.

Quemadmodum probably dates from Taverner’s later years. Its imitative phrases are more thoroughly worked than in his presumably earlier output, demonstrating the continent’s influence on English composers. The motet survives in a wordless source, likely used for recreational purposes by musical Elizabethans, but editor Timothy Symons has taken the lead from the title and fit the first two verses of Psalm 42 to Taverner’s notes.

O splendor gloriae is a Jesus antiphon, whose music alternates passages for full choir with passages for solo voices in a variety of combinations. Ingenuity and creativity abound throughout this lyrical and athletic choral tour de force.

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) has the distinction of having worked under four monarchs (Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I) during England’s turbulent 16th century. He proved himself the most malleable of composers, with the ability to maintain a musical identity across a variety of sub-genres. Having been granted a music publishing monopoly by Elizabeth I, Tallis and his colleague William Byrd published a collection of motets titled Cantiones Sacrae in 1575. This first publication was dedicated to the monarch and each composer provided 17 compositions to mark the first 17 years of her reign. Tallis’ five-voice O sacrum convivium began as an instrumental fantasia and went through a long process of adaptation and revision before it ended up as a motet published in the collection.

CD Booket (O splendor gloriae)

Doug Fullington, director


1. Sheppard: Libera nos, salva nos I
2. Taverner: Dum transisset Sabbatum I
3. Taverner: Leroy Kyrie
4. Taverner: Quemadmodum
5. Taverner: O splendor gloriae
6. Tallis: O sacrum convivium
7. Tallis: O salutaris hostia
8. Tallis: Suscipe quaeso, Domine
9. Tallis: Loquebantur variis linguis
10. Byrd: Laudibus in sanctis
11. Byrd: Miserere mei
12. Byrd: Ave verum corpus
13. Byrd: Tribue, Domine
14. Sheppard: Libera nos, salva nos II

Also included was the penitential motet Suscipe quaeso, Domine, one of Tallis’ several seven-voice works. (The others are the Mass Puer natus est nobis, the canonic motet Miserere nostri, and the Pentecost responsory Loquebantur variis linguis, whose complexity suggests the apostles speaking in their newfound languages all at once). With Suscipe, Tallis pays particular attention to his text, emphasizing key words and phrases using chordal speech rhythm.

The Eucharistic motet O salutaris hostia does not appear in Cantiones Sacrae. Its SATBarB scoring looks back to the pre-Reformation music of Taverner and his colleagues.

William Byrd (1540-1623) proved his versatility as a Catholic musician living and working in newly Protestant England. We find him in an uplifting mode in his motet Laudibus in sanctis, a free paraphrase of Psalm 150, published in 1591 in the second book of Cantiones Sacrae. Here Byrd utilizes madrigalian word-painting techniques to give life to the lively text. The short penitential motet Miserere mei, Deus is from the same publication.

Tribue, Domine, one of the longest and most complex motets from Byrd’s earlier years, is from the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae. The new-old feel of the six-voice work is achieved through juxtaposing a three-part structure reminiscent of the votive antiphons of Taverner’s day with the more modern antiphonal use of groups of voices. The result is a vocal tour de force that builds to several climaxes of great impact.

Ave verum corpus is one of Byrd’s most beloved motets. This miniature was published in the 1605 Gradualia, the first of a major two-part publication of settings of Catholic Roman-rite propers representing Byrd’s staunch commitment to the Church in his later years. The addition of the text “Miserere mei” at the end of the motet is Byrd’s personal addition.

John Sheppard (c. 1515-1558) was master of choristers at Magdalen College, Oxford. The college statutes required residents to recite the Latin prayer Libera nos, salva nos upon rising in the morning and going to sleep at night. Sheppard made two settings of the prayer for the choir at Magdalen. With the chant melody moving slowly in the bass beneath a web of intricate polyphony for six higher voices, these settings are among the most magical pieces of polyphony composed during the Tudor era.

Doug Fullington



Founded by Doug Fullington in 1993, the Tudor Choir is a Seattle-based vocal chamber ensemble that has been hailed as “a superb choir” (Gramophone), as well as “a choir to watch” (Fanfare). The choir is a resident ensemble at historic Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle’s University District and a Guest Choral Artist at St. James Cathedral. The Tudor Choir specializes in Renaissance polyphony and also has been acclaimed for its performances of early American and contemporary music.

The choir has performed extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest, including concert appearances in Vancouver, British Columbia and Portland, Oregon and has made guest appearances with Mark Morris Dance Group, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, and Early Music Guild of Seattle. The choir will make its East Coast debut in December 2012, performing in Washington, DC and Pennsylvania.

The Tudor Choir has cultivated relationships with a number of world-renowned conductors and especially with Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars. Mr. Phillips has conducted the choir in a number of concerts, including joint performances with members of the Tallis Scholars each year at the Tallis Scholars Summer School USA in Seattle since its inception in 2005. The choir also has sung under the direction of Stephen Cleobury (King’s College, Cambridge), Martin Haselböck (Vienna), Paul Hillier (Hilliard Ensemble, Theatre of Voices), and Andrew Parrott (Taverner Choir).

O splendor gloriae is the Tudor Choir’s first disc for Scribe Records.


Doug Fullington is the founder and director of the Tudor Choir. He is a specialist inthe music of Tudor England and early American music. As a countertenor, he performs with the Tudor Choir under guest conductors and has sung with the London-based Tallis Scholars in England, France, and the United States.

Doug has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Washington School of Music as an auxiliary member of the faculty. He also coaches ensembles preparing for performances of early music and prepares editions of Tudor and other Renaissance vocal music for the Tudor Choir and other groups, including the Tallis Scholars, and the New York-based ensemble Vox.