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Mass Salve Intemerata

Tallis: Mass Salve Intermerata

Tallis’s Mass Salve intemerata is closely based upon his votive antiphon. The relationship between the two works is especially close in the Gloria, where Tallis adds hardly any new material, merely making rhythmic alterations in order to accommodate the new text. The other movements become progressively less reliant upon the material of the antiphon, so that about a quarter of the Credo, a third of the Sanctus and half of the Agnus Dei are freely composed. Although the tenor part of the entire Mass is missing, it can be restored with certainty wherever the Mass quotes from the antiphon, because the quotation is literal; in the freely-composed sections there is more room for manoeuvre, but Tallis’s fondness for imitative writing is often helpful to the restorer. The idea of composing a Mass by re-using the music of an existing composition was not new—Fayrfax had tried it in his votive antiphon and Mass O bone Jesu about a generation earlier—but it seems to have attracted renewed interest in the 1530s. Tallis’s immediate models were probably Taverner’s Masses Mater Christi and Small devotion/Sancti Wilhelmi, derived from the composer’s own votive antiphons Mater Christi and Christe Jesu respectively, but in one respect Tallis is a great deal bolder than Taverner. Where Taverner redeployed his material in an essentially similar context, Tallis’s re-use of his material shows it in a radically new light: where the antiphon is a large-scale public work, the Mass is concise and intimate. Tallis’s dexterity in adapting the pre-existing music to its new environment and blending it with the new material is quite remarkable, the more so because it is so unobtrusive: the craftsmanship is of the highest order.

Nick Sandon,10th December 1998


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