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John Taverner - Imperatrix Inferni

John Taverner - Imperatrix Inferni

Ref: CD707

Votive Antiphons and Ritual Music

John Taverner (d. 1545) is, arguably, the most famous of all early Tudor composers, and one who had a rather colourful musical and political career. His music represents the final flowering of late medieval English polyphony before the onslaught of mid 16th-century Reformation. Much of the music on this recording centres around Taverner's earlier career, including the three surviving large-scale Votive Antiphons. Included, too, is his sumptuous six-part Quemadmodum, which stylistically foreshadows true 'Renaissance' composition in England.

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Imperatrix inferni
Votive Antiphons & Ritual Music

1. Quemadmodum
2. Audivi vocem
3. Ave Dei patris filia
4. Dum transisset sabbatum
5. Mater Christi
6. Gaude plurimum
7. [Hodie nobis celorum rex ...] Gloria in excelsis Deo
8. O splendor gloriae

ALAMIRE, directed by David Skinner
Grace Davidson, soprano
Kirsty Hopkins, soprano
Eleanor Cramer, soprano
Ruth Massey, contralto
Clare Wilkinson, contralto
Mark Dobell, tenor*
Nicholas Todd, tenor
Ashley Turnell, tenor*
Simon Wall, tenor
Eamonn Dougan, baritone
Timothy Scott Whiteley, baritone
William Gaunt, bass
Robert Macdonald, bass
* track 1 only

Producer: Nigel Short
Engineer: Jim Gross
Executive Producer: Martin Souter
Recorded in: Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, 23-25 November 2010
Performing editions: David Skinner
Cover image: The Ghent Altarpiece, The Virgin Mary, 1432 (oil on panel), Eyck, Hubert (c.1370-1426) & Jan van (1390-1441)/St Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium/The Bridgeman Art Library

p & c 2011 Classical Communications Ltd
Made in Great Britain

John Taverner (d. 1545) is, arguably, the most famous of all early Tudor composers, and one who had a rather colourful musical and political career. His music represents the final flowering of late medieval English polyphony before the onslaught of mid 16th-century Reformation. Taverner, a known reformer himself, was the first English composer to stylistically anticipate the musical ideals of the Reformation as more audibly declaimed in the works of Tallis and Tye during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I. Indeed, so contrasting was his compositional style from one decade to the next, much of his music can be fairly confidently dated according to his succession of posts.
While his close contemporaries Robert Fayrfax (d. 1521) and Nicholas Ludford (d. 1557) had associations with Henry VIII and moved in courtly circles, Taverner seems to have spent his entire adult life in Lincolnshire, apart from a brief stint in Oxford. He is first found in 1524 as a singer in the collegiate chapel at Tattershall, from which place he was coaxed by John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln to be the first Instructor of the Choristers at Cardinal College, Oxford (now Christ Church). Taverner at first declined as a move from Tattershall would damage his prospects of a good marriage, but in 1526 he changed his mind and spent the next four years in Cardinal Wolsey's magnificent new foundation in Oxford.
Oxford in those years was a hotbed of reformist activity and in 1528 Taverner himself became embroiled in an outbreak of Lutheran heresy in the college. He and others were accused of keeping heretical books in the song school and locked in the college fish cellar, but Wolsey made light of the matter and pardoned Taverner on the grounds that he was 'but a musician'. But it was certainly during his Oxford years that he produced compositions of a very different sort from those of his earlier career. It is believed that the so-called 'Forrest-Heyther' part-books (now in the Bodleian Library), which contain Taverner's Festal Mass settings, were compiled for Cardinal College; certainly the style of these masses represent the composer's early period from the late 1510s and early '20s. His two surviving large-scale Marian antiphons Ave Dei patris filia and Gaude plurimum are thought to date from this period, as does much of his ritual music. They are, in style and form, typical of the antiphons represented in the earlier Eton Choirbook (compiled in c. 1502), but, one might argue, without the harmonic rambling and melodic 'note spinning' that pervade many of the less polished works in that important collection. Ave Dei may be his earliest large-scale work, and is certainly his least known; it is a text set by a number of early Tudor composers including Fayrfax and Tallis, and extols the joys of the Blessed Virgin who is described, among other things, as Imperatrix inferni (the Empress of Hell). Also typical of Taverner's early style are the responds Hodie nobis celorum and Audivi vocem. The former, for Christmas Day, is particularly florid, while the latter work served a specific liturgical purpose at Matins on the feast of All Saints' Day (1 November). Here, according to the Sarum Rite, the eighth lesson was directed to be read by a boy; following the lesson the respond Audivi vocem was to be sung by five boys from the altar steps 'their heads covered with white amices and carrying lighted candles', while the chant was left to be sung by the clerks or vicars choral.
At Oxford one important concern for Taverner was the clarity of text, which, in much of the church music composed up to 1547, was not a primary objective of many composers; Taverner, however, with his evangelical leanings, seems to have been a leading exponent and inventor of new ways of textual declamation. Mater Christi sanctissima is a good example of the new techniques. Such devices as note-against-note counterpoint and antiphonal writing are apparent here, as well as close-knit imitation and an abundant use of homophonic or chordal writing. Taverner's Mass setting of that name as well as the Mass-motet cycle 'O Wilhelme pastor bone' also date from his Oxford years.
With Wolsey's fall from grace as Henry VIII's chief minister late in 1529 the college began to run down. The foundations for the new chapel were laid on the north side of the great quadrangle (the dimensions of which would have rivaled King's College Chapel in Cambridge), but work was suspended. Taverner decided to return to Lincolnshire and spent his remaining years in Boston, some 15 miles from Tattershall, and in 1545 was buried in the parish church under the great tower.
During these final years Taverner seems to have continued to move in reformist circles. He was apparently known personally to Thomas Cromwell who in 1538 entrusted him with supervising the dismantling and burning of the rood screen in Boston parish church. There is some debate as to whether Taverner continued to compose after his Oxford years; the 16th-century martyrologist John Foxe maintained that Taverner became so influenced by Protestant doctrine as to 'repent him very much that he had made songs to popish ditties in the time of his blindness'. However, it seems fairly clear that certain works must date from his time at Boston, including the so-called 'Plainsong' mass (following Cranmer's suggestion 'for every syllable a note'). The Jesus antiphon O splendor gloriae - attributed in one later source jointly to Taverner and Christopher Tye - may also date from this period and possibly have been commissioned by the Boston Guild of Corpus Christi, to which Taverner belonged.
Another work that may date from Taverner's final years is a setting of the first verses of Psalm 41 (42) Quemadmodum, which survives in an untexted source as an instrumental work and stylistically seems to be his most mature composition. It may be that his Protestant leanings guided his pen to an instrumental rendition of what is clearly conceived as a vocal work; certainly the text fits the music quite seamlessly. While Tallis is credited, and rightly so, for steering English composition through the turbulent years of the Reformation, it is Taverner who was first to break free from traditional forms of early Tudor composition. Indeed, so forward thinking was he that Quemadmodum arguably stands beside anything produced in Mary I's reign. Taverner, in life, was a quiet genius and his surviving music still maintains an emotional charge that can be felt by 21st-century hearts.

© 2011, David Skinner


1. Quemadmodum
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum: ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus. Sitivit anima mea ad Deum fontem vivum: quando veniam et apparebo faciem Dei?

As the hart panteth after the fountains of water; so my soul panteth after thee, O God. My soul hath thirsted after God, the living fountain; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?

2. Audivi vocem
Audivi vocem de caelo venientem: venite omnes virgines sapientissime.
Oleum recondite in vasis vestris, dum sponsus advenerit.
Media nocte clamor factus est, ecce sponsus venit.
Oleum recondite in vasis vestris, dum sponsus advenerit.

I heard a voice coming from heaven: come, all you most wise virgins.
Store up the the oil in your vessels until the bridegroom comes.
At midnight the cry broke forth: behold, the bridegroom comes.
Store up the the oil in your vessels until the bridegroom comes.

3. Ave Dei patris filia
Ave Dei patris filia nobilissima
Dei filii mater dignissima
Dei spiritus sponsa venustissima
Dei unius et trini ancilla subiectissima.

Ave summae aeternitatis filia clementissima
Summe veritatis mater piissima
Summe bonitatis sponsa benignissima
Summe trinitatis ancilla mitissima.

Ave aeterne caritatis desideratissima filia
Aeterne sapientie mater gratissima
Aeterne spiracionis sponsa sacratissima
Coaeterne maiestatis ancilla sincerissima.

Ave Iesu tui filii dulcis filia
Christi dei tui mater alma
Sponsi sponsa sine ulla macula
Deitatis ancilla sessioni proxima.

Ave Domini filia singulariter generosa
Domini mater singulariter gloriosa
Domini sponsa singulariter speciosa
Domini ancilla singulariter obsequiosa.

Ave plena gracia poli regina
Misericordiae mater meritis preclara
Mundi domina a patriarchis presignata
Imperatrix inferni a prophetis preconizata.

Ave virgo feta ut sol preelecta
Mater intacta sicut luna perpulcra
Salve parens inclita enixa puerpera
Stella maris prefulgida felix celi porta.

Esto nobis via recta ad aeterna gaudia,
Ubi pax est et gloria,
O gloriosissima semper virgo Maria. Amen.

Hail, most noble daughter of God the Father, most worthy mother of the Son of God, most lovely bride of the Holy Spirit, most humble handmaid of God the Three in One.

Hail, most merciful daughter of the supreme eternity, most faithful mother of the supreme truth, most kindly bride of the supreme good, most gentle handmaid of the supreme Trinity.

Hail, most beloved daughter of eternal love, most gracious mother of eternal wisdom, most holy bride of eternal spirit, most pure handmaid of coeternal majesty.

Hail, daughter of your dear son Jesus, kindly mother of Christ your God, spotless bride of the bridegroom, handmaid of the Almighty beside his throne.

Hail, only noble daughter of the Lord, only glorious mother of the Lord, only excellent bride of the Lord, only obedient handmaid of the Lord.

Hail, full of grace, queen of heaven, mother of mercy, famed for your benefits, lady of this world, foretold by the patriarchs, empress of hell, foreknown by the prophets.

Hail, fruitful maiden, predestined like the sun, mother unsullied, lovely like the moon, hail, most glorious parent who laboured in childbirth, brilliant star of the sea, blessed gate of heaven.

Be unto us a true path to eternal joys, where there is glory and peace, O most glorious Mary ever-virgin. Amen.

4. Dum transisset Sabbatum
Dum transisset Sabbatum Maria Magdalene et Maria Jacobi et Salome emerunt aromata, ut venientes ungerent Iesum. Alleluia.

Et valde mane una sabbatorum veniunt ad monumentum, orto iam sole , ut venientes ungerent Iesum. Alleluia

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Alleluia.

And when the Sabbath was past Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Jesus. Alleluia.

And very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb at the rising of the sun that they might come and anoint Jesus. Alleluia.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Alleluia.

5. Mater Christi
Mater Christi sanctissima, virgo sacrata Maria. Tuis orationibus benignum redde filium.
Unica spes nostra Maria. Nam precibus nitentes tuis rogare audemus filium. Ergo fili decus patris. Iesu fons fecundissime a quo vivae fluunt aquae rigantes fida pectora. O Iesu vitalis cibus, te pure manducantibus salutari potu et cibo pavisti nostra corpora. Tua pasce animam gracia tibi consecratos spritu tuo fove munere. Quin et nostras, Iesu bone, mentes illustra gracia, et nos pie fac vivere ut dulci ambrosio tuo, vescamur in palatio. Amen.

Most blessed mother of Christ, holy virgin Mary, by your prayers make kindly your son, O Mary our only source of hope. For we put our trust in your prayers when we dare to make petitions to your son. And so, Jesus, son and glory of the Father, wellspring of life, from whom life-giving waters flow, bathing faithful hearts; O Jesus, you are the life-giving bread to those who eat in faith: you have nourished our bodies with the food and drink of eternal life. By your grace nourish too our souls; by your self-giving, protect those consecrated to you by the Spirit. And now, good Lord, illumine our hearts by your grace, and make us live in godliness, that at the last we may have sweet manna to eat in your heavenly palace. Amen.

6. Gaude pluimum
Gaude plurimum, servatoris nostri mater, femina que vixerunt omnium felicissima, sola virgo pre ceteris, que naturali partu sed concepcione celesti mediam divine trinitatis personam, verum Deum, sempiterni patris sempiternum filium, quo nos a perpetua morte servaremur, benignius hominem edidisti.

Gaude, Maria virgo, divinitus hanc tibi prestitam graciam, ut ipsa preter ceteras omnes unica sis mortalis femina que Christum Iesum in utero gesseris, gravida edideris enixum, materno foveris gremio immortalem sobolem.

Gaude, sacratissima virgo, illum non minus tibi quam ceteris hominibus immortalem filium peperisti, qui celica sua potestate inferni debellavit tirannidem, cruentas mortis eterne principos vires fregit, vitamque humano generi perpetuam restituit.

Gaude Maria, Iesu mater, talem te genuisse filium, qui divina sua resurrexione future nostre in gloria resurrexionis spem certam tradidit; ad deumque patrem ascendens et deus et homo, misericordia plenus in celum quoque reditum omnibus pollicetur.

Gaudemus itaque, et nos omnes nobis et tue beatitudini, Maria Iesu mater, gracias habentes gratulamur, que supernam adepta graciam ad perhennem quoque in celum gloriam assumpta es.

Eudem igitur Iesum tuum filium supplices deprecamur ut, quo indigni qui exaudiamur assequi non valemus, tuis benignissimis precibus impetrare possimus eandem tecum celestem gloriam. Amen.

Rejoice greatly, mother of our Saviour, most blessed of all women who have lived, the one virgin above all others who by natural birth but heavenly conception brought forth as man the middle person of the divine Trinity, true God, eternal Son of the eternal Father, that we might be delivered from ever-lasting death, thou who benignly brought forth man.

Rejoice, Virgin Mary, in this outstanding grace from heaven, that before all others you yourself should be the one mortal woman who carried Jesus Christ in your womb, who, being great with child, gave birth, and having borne the child, cherished the immortal offspring in your maternal lap.

Rejoice, most holy Virgin, that you bore him who is an immortal son to you, no less than to the rest of mankind, who by his heavenly power overcame the tyranny of hell, broke the bloody powers of the prince of eternal death, and restored everlasting life to mankind.

Rejoice, Mary, mother of Jesus, that you gave birth to such a son, who by his divine resurrection gave us the sure hope of our future resurrection in glory; and who, ascending to God the Father, both God and man, full of mercy, promises a return to heaven for all.

Therefore we rejoice and congratulate ourselves, giving thanks also to your blessedness, O Mary, mother of Jesus, who has received divine favour and been taken up into heaven to everlasting glory.

Therefore we as supplicants pray to the same Jesus your son that we, who are unworthy and cannot reach to be heard, may with your most pleasing prayers attain the same heavenly glory with you. Amen.

7. [Hodie nobis celorum rex ...] Gloria in excelsis Deo
Hodie nobis celorum rex de virgine nasci dignatus est, ut hominem perditum ad regna caelesti a revocaret: gaudet exercitus angelorum. Qui salus eterna humano generi apparuit.
Gloria in excelsis Deo: et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Quia salus aeterna humano generi apparuit.

Today the King of heaven deigned to be born for us of a virgin, that he might call lost man back to the heavenly kingdom: the host of angels rejoices, because eternal salvation has appeared to the human race.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.
Because eternal salvation has appeared to the human race.

8. O splendor gloriae
O splendor gloriae et imago substancie Dei patris omnipotentis, Iesu Christe unice eiusdem fili dilecte, tocius boni fons vive, redemptor mundi, servator et Deus noster, salve!

Gloriosa, Domine, tua est majestas et opera mirabila, ut caelum et terram cum omnibus que in eis sunt creaturis divino tuo verbo ex nihilo fecisti. Que sapientissime mox disponens, nobis quos ad imaginem tuam novissime formasti, ut deservirent benignissime cuncta subdidisti.

Mortem intulerat protoplasti inobediencia, sed quo facture tue vitam redimeres, de Maria virgine humillia, Iesu sumpsisti carnem. Ex qua enim de spiritu sancto conceptus, natus es Deus et homo, ac illa tua mater integra permansit et perpetua virgo.

Et cum pro nobis duram tolerasses vitam, flagris cecus et tormentis laceratus, qui peccatum non feceris in corpore tuo scelera nostra perferens, ac eadem tuo preciosissimo sanquine effuso abluens, mortem denique infamem agnus mitissimus passus es et crudelissimam. Hinc tuo patri suavis hostia oblatus, pro nobis miseris peccatoribus es afflictus

Dein tercia die a morte exsuscitatus ad celestem patriamcum gloria summa elevatus, ut illi dexter assideas. Inde sanctum paracletum nobis dedisti, qui ut nostra caelesti doctrina confirmet pectora, te prece precamur humili. Amen.

O radiance of the Father's glory and very image of God the Father almighty, Jesus Christ, his only beloved son, living fount of all good, redeemer of the world, our deliverer and our God, hail!

Glorious, O Lord, is thy majesty, and wonderful thy works: by thy divine word thou madest out of nothing heaven and earth and all the creatures therein; then, having set them in order by thy great wisdom, thou puttest all things in subjection to us, whom thou had created anew in thine own image, that they might serve us.

Disobedience brought death to our first forefathers; but in order to redeem the life of thy creation, O Jesus, thou tookest flesh from the most lowly Virgin Mary: for, conceived by the Holy Spirit, thou wast born of her both God and man, and she, your mother, remained inviolate and a virgin for ever.

And when for our sake thou hadst endured a life of harshness, the strokes of the whip and the searing tortures, though thou hadst committed no sin, bearing on thine own body our misdeeds, and washing them away by the outpouring of thy most precious blood, at last thou, the gentle lamb, suffered a degrading and cruel death: and so thou offered thyself as the acceptable sacrifice to thy Father and suffered for us sinners.

Then, being woken from death on the third day, thou wast carried up to thy Father with great glory, to sit at his right hand: and then thou gavest us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and that he may strengthen our hearts by his heavenly wisdom we now pray to thee with humble petition. Amen.

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