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Te deum for meanes

Tallis:Te deum for meanes

The five-part Te deum, a setting of the first canticle at Anglican Mattins, is thought to date from the late 1540s, although it survives only in a seventeenth-century source. Tallis's achievement in this work is remarkable. Consisting of a very long succession of brief and repetitive clauses, the text of the Te deum is difficult to set to music without falling into short-windedness and incoherence. One might have thought that the plainness of the style current in England during the later 1540s would make such lapses inevitable. Yet here, with deceptively simple means, Tallis succeeds in creating a work on a grand scale with a strong sense of momentum and coherence, and in reconciling the rival demands of contrast and continuity. He is extremely imaginative in his handing of imitation, constantly changing the shape of the points and the order and distance of their entry, not just to create local contrast but also to work cumulatively upon each other. Writing in five parts rather than four—an early example of the ten part decani-cantoris texture characteristic of the Anglican 'great-service'—helps to create a feeling of monumentality, and allows the exploitation of a much greater variety of textures. Perhaps most admirable, although easy to overlook, are the sure grasp of timing and deft control of pace. This may not be the most immediately impressive music that Tallis ever wrote, but its resourcefulness and craftsmanship are exceptional.

Nick Sandon, 15 June 1997

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