Tunes of Tudor Tumult
Hoping that a semblance of normality will have returned to Europe by late summer, this is what we have in store...
Orlando Chamber Choir performs at the International Music Festival in Marvão, Portugal, bringing a breath-taking blend of English choral works from turbulent late-Tudor times. The ascension of Anglican Queen Elizabeth I drove Catholicism underground, compelling the country’s prime composer, Thomas Tallis, to tactfully transcribe some of his music for compliance with protestant practice. He and his pupil William Byrd published stunning high-Anglican settings like Salvator mundi and O nata lux but continued to celebrate their own conviction in covert Catholic compositions. These latter works touched on themes of religious treason – like the warning against Anglican spies whispered in Vigilate and the insistence in Quis est homo that salvation is restricted to the religiously righteous.
Not only credence required careful weighing, words called for caution too. Controversially to some, Queen Elizabeth had Archbishop Parker translate the psalms into English, reverently tuned by Thomas Tallis and (much later) set with rowdy joy by Kerry Andrew. Even seemingly innocent secular poetry could be treacherously contentious. The madrigal collection “The Triumphs of Oriana”, in which the country’s most prominent composers celebrated Queen Elizabeth, is rumoured to have first been dedicated to Anne of Denmark, would-be Catholic Queen of England had the so-called Essex Rebellion succeeded. When we perform John Wilbye’s flattering The Lady Oriana and Thomas Weelkes’ joyful As Vesta was, you may wonder whom they really woo… There’s more mystery in Shakespeare’s songs, set by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Tudor times’ most brilliant bard spiked his poems with Catholic clues – references to red roses, turtle doves and even the number five may have encoded his religious recalcitrance.
The concert’s glorious repertoire conveys a comforting message: in periods of religious unrest and political pandemonium, when language is contested and there's venom in mere verse, music resounds with even more depth and beauty. Come and enjoy the Portuguese echoes of our tunes of Tudor tumult!