allis Choir of Toronto
A Tallis Gala Concert - Programme Notes:
“The monstrous regiment of women!” So raged the Scottish reformer, John Knox, in 1553. Suddenly he was surrounded by Catholic Marys: Mary, Queen of Scots, still queen consort in France … Mary de Guise, her mother and Regent of Scotland … and now the new Queen of England, Mary Tudor. Not only was the Protestant Reformation in peril, the divine order of society had been overthrown women were ruling men! Although Mary Tudor remains the most vilified monarch in English history (Richard III runs a close second), she came to the throne on a wave of popular enthusiasm. The plot to make Lady Jane Grey a Protestant queen failed, and the years of political corruption and oppression under the government of the boy-king, Edward VI, had left a bitterly sectarian realm yearning for peace. Queen Mary I had two passionate goals: to marry and secure the succession, and to restore the Catholic faith in England. She failed in both.
After years of humiliation by her father, Henry VIII, and persecution under her brother, Mary remarkably began her reign with astute diplomacy. Although a devoted Catholic, she dispatched half of the musicians of the Chapel Royal to sing for her brother’s Protestant funeral at Greenwich while the other half sang a full requiem mass for her in the chapel of the Tower of London. It was not the first or the last time that Thomas Tallis and his colleagues would have to sing on both sides of the fence! Mary was her father’s daughter and an excellent musician and generous patron of the arts. But she was also a true Tudor, ruthlessly stubborn and tragically foolish in matters matrimonial. She was determined to marry Philip of Spain, the son of the Emperor Charles V. Her loyal Catholic supporters begged her to marry an Englishman: the English would never accept a Spanish king. There was even serious consideration that her cousin, Reginald Cardinal Pole in Rome, would be dispensed from his vows by the pope so that he could marry the queen (Renaissance matrimonial intrigue was nothing if not theatrical!)
Mary was intractable, and, in the summer of 1554, the couple was married in Winchester. The omens of future crisis haunted the marriage feast. Mary as queen regnant was served off gold plate, Philip as mere king consort dined on silver plate. But Mary was an amorous Tudor and displayed her passion almost indelicately. He coins showed the couple in close face-to-face rather than in the traditional side profile. Her detractors mocked her in a couplet:
|“Amorous and billing
Like Philip and Mary on a shilling.”
And then came the fulfillment of a dream: the 38 year-old Mary announced that she was pregnant. The court festivities at Christmas that year were spectacular, and extravagant comparisons of the Queen to the Virgin Mary became commonplace. Waiting ever-anxiously in the wings, the Princess Elizabeth learned much about the propaganda value of virgin queens from her sister. The future Gloriana also learned the dangers of matrimony.
The responsibility for much of royal magnificence fell on the musicians of the Chapel Royal who were led by two of England’s greatest composers, Thomas Tallis and John Sheppard. The Chapel Royal was not a particular building but rather a company of clergy and musicians who performed the liturgy wherever the monarch happened to be. During Mary’s reign, the palaces at Greenwich and Hampton Court were the favoured residences. In addition, Philip had brought his own royal choir, the Capilla Real, under the direction of the famous composers, Antonio de Cabezon and Phillippe De Monte. Tallis and Sheppard had returned to composition for the Latin rite with enthusiasm, and it is clear that they had a joint project to provide complete polyphonic settings for the entire church year. The climax of the 1554-55 Christmas season was the Feast of the Purification on February 2, which celebrated the purification of the Virgin in the Temple after the birth of Christ. The feast was marked by a great procession with candles, hence its popular name of Candelmas. For the celebration, Tallis wrote the music for First Vespers on the evening before and Sheppard composed for the concluding Second Vespers the next day. This evening’s performance recreates the former occasion when it was noted with some amazement that both Mary and Philip’s chapels joined forces to sing together the English and Spanish courts were literally at daggers drawn.
This celebration perhaps marked the high point of Mary’s personal happiness and political popularity. There was bitter disappointment ahead. Mary finally had to admit that she was not pregnant and had a fatal disease that would kill her in three years. Philip soon found an excuse to conduct a military campaign on the Continent. He never returned to reside in England. Mary was heart-broken. And more. Mary began to burn heretics in numbers far beyond which would be tolerated even by Tudor public opinion. A week after this evening’s music was sung, Richard Hooper, the Bishop of Gloucester, went to the stake for his Protestant faith. The flickering tapers of Candelmas were becoming burning pyres. Mary had begun her descent into infamy. Already her subjects were whispering the name by which she would be known in history “Bloody Mary!” Thomas Tallis would serve four Tudor monarchs and die peacefully in bed. Posterity would crown him as the “Father of English Music.”
Douglas Cowling © 2005
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Last updated: November 15th, 2005