Magnificat for four voices
The four voice Magnificat is one of Tallis’ earliest surviving works and must be roughly contemporary with two of his votive antiphons; Ave Dei Patris Filia and Ave Rosa Sine Spinis. Unlike these two works, however, the Magnificat is scored for four voices alone, two tenors, a baritone and a bass (or AATB at notated pitch and SSAT in upward transposition).
The youthfulness of the work and use of a modest four voice texture suggest that the Magnificat was composed when Tallis was at the beginning of his compositional career – perhaps at Dover Priory. In many ways the work is experimental; several times Tallis uses unprepared dissonances and writes open chords, both of which were stylistic features he quickly left behind. However, the text is set with careful attention to syllable stress and a close engagement with his text was to become a defining feature for the rest of Tallis’ compositional life.
Tallis sets the six even numbered verses of the Magnificat and doxology to polyphony and the odd numbered verses are supplied here to tone 1 from the Use of Sarum. As Paul Doe has pointed out rather than using the tone 1 chant as a cantus firmus Tallis bases the alto line (in this transposition) to a tone 1 faburden; that is, a counter-melody which fits the tone harmonically. The use of faburden had previously been widespread in England as a means of elaborating and decorating the plainchant tones.
The original spelling used in the Gyffard partbooks has been retained in this edition.
The sole source of the Magnificat is the Gyffard Partbooks, a collection of four part pieces compiled by Dr Roger Gyffard in the 1570s. The clean condition of the partbooks and the minimal number of corrections of the numerous errors they contain suggest that the books were hardly used by singers. The most likely explanation for their existence is that they were a retrospective collection of works that Gyffard was familiar with when he was an undergraduate at Christchurch in the 1560s. Other works by Tallis to be found in this collection are the two lady mass fragments Euge Caeli Porta and Alleluia: Ora Pro Nobis the Jesus antiphon Sancte Deus, the three small responds Hodie Nobis, In Pace and Audivi Vocem, and the mass for four voices.
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