Tallis: Sancte deus
Sancte deus is a Jesus-antiphon, the text of which had previously been set by John
Taverner and William Whytbroke; the Gyffard partbooks also contain a setting by Philip van
Wilder, a Flemish lutenist and composer who served as a chamber musician at the royal
court from the early 1520s until his death in 1553. Tallis's composition has been said to
reflect 'both the doctrine and musical style of about 1540' (The New Grove,
'Tallis'). On the other hand, Taverner's composition of this text is likely to date from
about 1525, Whytbroke's cannot be much later, and official pronouncements on religion
around 1540 do not seem significantly to have promoted the cause of the Jesus-antiphon.
The rather wayward style of Tallis's Sancte deus could imply a slightly earlier
date, perhaps nearer 1535 than 1540. The Sancte Deus text seems to have been
amalgamated, with a few minor changes, from the invocation 'Sancte deus, sanctus fortis,
sanctus et immortalis, miserere nobis' from the Improperia for Good Friday, and
from the third verse, 'Nunc Christe te petimus ... redemptos' of Libera me domine,
the ninth responsory at Matins of the dead.
Nick Sandon, 15 June 1997