Queen Katherine Parr & Songs of Reformation
Alamire with Fretwork
Directed by David Skinner
Obsidian Records is delighted to announce Thomas Tallis, Queen Katherine Parr and Songs of Reformation. In the year marking 500 years since the posting of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, this new recording by Alamire, Fretwork and David Skinner celebrates the music of Thomas Tallis, whose musical style famously evolved with the changing religious landscape of 16th-century England. The disc will be available online, in store and as a digital download from Friday 10 November 2017.
In 1978 an extraordinary discovery was made behind plasterwork in the walls of Corpus Christi College, Oxford: music from Thomas Tallis’s grandest motet Gaude gloriosa, but with unidentified English words. The discovery remained more or less dormant until David Skinner recently identified the text as being by none other than Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen Katherine Parr.
The words are from her psalm paraphrase ‘Against Enemies’ in her first publication Psalms or Prayers, published in London in 1544. Parr’s work was published in tandem with Thomas Cranmer’s Litany, which was the first departure from the Roman rite in Henry’s reign, though we have known very little of its actual liturgical use until now.
All was part of Henry’s famous war effort against the Scots and French in 1544; the English Litany was adopted so that the population might stand up and pray the King into battle — and for the first time in English — later that summer. Skinner has also discovered that the Litany, Parr’s text (set to music by Tallis), alongside the composer’s 5-part Litany (also now to be performed in the Festival) were first performed following an elaborately orchestrated series of events at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, which culminated on 23 May 1544 with a procession and sermon.
Queen Katherine Parr, via the Chapel Royal singers, acted as Henry VIII’s mouthpiece with her evocative war-like text ‘See, Lord, and behold’, with sentiments such as ‘they are traitors and rebels against me’ and ‘let the wicked sinners return unto hell, and let them fall and be taken down into the pit which they have digged’! For the first time we can now suggest a specific date which marks the beginning of the English liturgical reformation — 23 May 1544 at St Paul’s Cathedral — which quite predates the introduction of the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549.
In the press
"Exquisite… Alamire’s all-Tallis disc is fascinating not only for this anthem, Se [sic] Lord and Behold – it was discovered by the choir’s director, David Skinner, two years ago – but also as a document of some of the earliest liturgical music set to English texts: church music as anti-French propaganda. Alamire’s clean-toned delivery makes every word speak, and Fretwork’s viol consort pieces set the choral works effectively in relief."
- The Guardian
“That this extraordinary work was modelled on an even earlier version of Gaude gloriosa is clear, and it is now thought that Tallis’s original dates from his arrival at Canterbury three years previous. It must have caught the ears of the king and queen, and considered the perfect vehicle for Katherine’s evocative text. So much for the theory that Katherine Parr was the king’s nursemaid in his final years. She actually served as a highly effective PR agent.”
- David Skinner, writing for BBC Music Magazine
“When a fragment of music was discovered during renovations at Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1978, experts were amazed to discover it was written by Tudor royalty…”
- Classic FM
“The manuscript, thought to have belonged to 16th century organist Thomas Mulliner, was used to stuff cracks in the walls of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, thought to have been picked up by long-gone builders who did not realise its significance.”
- The Telegraph
“David Skinner and Alamire start the disc with Tallis' original Gaude gloriosa dei mater, a glorious performance which combines Alamire's familiar clarity of line with sonorous vibrancy of tone. Skinner and his singers effortlessly bring this large scale (over 15 minutes) devotional antiphon alive.”
- Planet Hugill, 5* review