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Mass for four voices

Tallis: Mass for four voices

Tallis's Mass for four voices exemplifies a kind of concise Mass setting that seems to have gained some popularity in the last ten or twelve years of Henry's reign. Surviving examples of this type are quite diverse—some are for five voices and others are for four, some are relatively ornate while others are very plain, and some are freely composed whereas others are derived from existing compositions—but they share the lack of a plainchant cantus firmus that would connect them with a particular feast. As usual in English Masses, Tallis sets the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus. The word-setting in the first two movements is almost entirely syllabic, and since the texture is frequently homophonic the words can be heard with great clarity. It is interesting that in the Sanctus and Agnus, which of course have much shorter texts than the Gloria and Credo, Tallis achieves sufficient dimensions more through text repetition than through melismatic writing. Given that he is working with only four voices and writing in a very restrained style, Tallis creates a remarkably strong sense of variety. The polished craftsmanship reminds one of his Missa Salve intemerata, with which this Mass may be roughly contemporary.

Nick Sandon, 15 June 1997


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