John Taverner

John Taverner

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John Taverner was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 composer
Composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 and organist
Organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

, regarded as the most important English composer of his era.

Career


We know nothing of Taverner's activities before 1524. He appears to have come from south Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

, but there is no indication of his parentage. According to one of his own letters, he was related to the Yerburghs, a well-to-do Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

 family. Our earliest information is that in 1524 Taverner travelled from Tattershall
Tattershall
Tattershall is a village and civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England, located on the A153 Horncastle to Sleaford road, east of the point where that road crosses the River Witham. At its eastern end, Tattershall adjoins the village of Coningsby, to the north of the village...

, Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

, to the Church of St Botolph in nearby Boston
Boston, Lincolnshire
Boston is a town and small port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England. It is the largest town of the wider Borough of Boston local government district and had a total population of 55,750 at the 2001 census...

 as a guest singer. A couple years later, in 1526, Taverner became the first Organist and Master of the Choristers at Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church or house of Christ, and thus sometimes known as The House), is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England...

, appointed by Cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

 Thomas Wolsey. The college had been founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey, and was then known as Cardinal College. Immediately before this, Taverner had been a clerk fellow at the Collegiate Church of Tattershall
Tattershall
Tattershall is a village and civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England, located on the A153 Horncastle to Sleaford road, east of the point where that road crosses the River Witham. At its eastern end, Tattershall adjoins the village of Coningsby, to the north of the village...

, Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire
Lincolnshire is a county in the east of England. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders...

. In 1528 he was reprimanded for his (probably minor) involvement with Lutherans
Lutheranism
Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation...

, but escaped punishment for being "but a musician". Wolsey fell from favour in 1529, and in 1530 Taverner left the college.

As far as can be told, Taverner had no further musical appointments, nor can any of his known works be dated to after that time, so he may have ceased composition. It is often said that after leaving Oxford Taverner worked as an agent of Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, , was an English statesman who served as chief minister of King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540....

 assisting in the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland; appropriated their...

, although the veracity of this is now thought to be highly questionable. He is known to have settled eventually in Boston, Lincolnshire
Boston, Lincolnshire
Boston is a town and small port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England. It is the largest town of the wider Borough of Boston local government district and had a total population of 55,750 at the 2001 census...

 where he was a small landowner and reasonably well-off. He was appointed an alderman
Alderman
An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions founded upon English law. The term may be titular, denoting a high-ranking member of a borough or county council, a council member chosen by the elected members themselves rather than by popular vote, or a council...

 of Boston in 1545, shortly before his death. He is buried under the belltower at Boston Parish Church
The Stump
St Botolph's Church is a parish church in the Church of England in Boston, Lincolnshire. It is famous for its extraordinarily tall tower, known as the Boston Stump.-Background:...

. The 20th century composer Sir John Tavener has claimed to be his direct descendant.

Works


Most of Taverner's music is vocal, and includes masses
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

, Magnificat
Magnificat
The Magnificat — also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary — is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn...

s and motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s. The bulk of his output is thought to date from the 1520s. His best-known motet is "Dum Transisset Sabbatum".

His best known mass is based on a popular song, "The Western Wynde" (John Sheppard and Christopher Tye
Christopher Tye
Christopher Tye was an English composer and organist, who studied at Cambridge University and in 1545 became a Doctor of Music both there and at Oxford.He was choirmaster of Ely Cathedral from about 1543 and also organist there from 1559...

 later also wrote masses based on this same song). Taverner's Western Wynde mass is unusual for the period because the theme tune appears in each of the four parts at different times. Commonly his masses are designed so that each of the four sections (Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus and Agnus) are about the same length, often achieved by putting the same number of repetitions of the thematic material in each. For example in the Western Wynde mass, the theme is repeated nine times in each section. As the sections have texts of very different lengths, he uses extended melisma
Melisma
Melisma, in music, is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note.-History:Music of ancient cultures used...

ta in the movements with fewer words.

Several of his other masses use the widespread cantus firmus
Cantus firmus
In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.The plural of this Latin term is , though the corrupt form canti firmi is also attested...

 technique, where a plainchant melody with long note values is placed in an interior part, often the tenor. Examples of cantus firmus masses include Corona Spinea and Gloria Tibi Trinitas. Another technique of composition is seen in his mass Mater Christi, which is based upon material taken from his motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

 of that name, and hence known as a "derived" or "parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

" mass.

The mass Gloria Tibi Trinitas gave origin to the style of instrumental work known as an In nomine
In Nomine
In Nomine is a title given to a large number of pieces of English polyphonic, predominantly instrumental music, first composed during the 16th century....

. Although the mass is in six parts, some more virtuosic sections are in reduced numbers of parts, presumably intended for soloists, a compositional technique used in several of his masses. The section at the words "in nomine..." in the Benedictus is in four parts, with the plainchant in the alto. This section of the mass became popular as an instrumental work for viol consort. Other composers came to write instrumental works modelled on this, and the name In nomine was given to works of this type.

The life of Taverner was the subject of Taverner
Taverner (opera)
Taverner is an opera with music and libretto by Peter Maxwell Davies. It is based on the life of the 16th century English composer John Taverner, but in what Davies himself acknowledged was a non-realistic treatment. The gestation for the opera dated as far back as 1956 during Davies's years in...

, an opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 by Peter Maxwell Davies
Peter Maxwell Davies
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, CBE is an English composer and conductor and is currently Master of the Queen's Music.-Biography:...

.

Masses

  1. Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas (6 voices)
  2. Missa Corona Spinea (6 voices)
  3. Missa O Michael (6 voices)
  4. Missa Sancti Wilhelmi (5 voices), sometimes called Small Devotion (possibly a corruption of inscription "S Will Devotio" found in two sources)
  5. Missa Mater Christi (5 voices)
  6. The Mean Mass (5 voices)
  7. The Plainsong Mass (4 voices)
  8. The Western Wynde Mass (4 voices)

Votive antiphons

  1. Ave Dei Patris filia (5 voices)
  2. Gaude plurimum (5 voices)
  3. O splendor gloriae (5 voices)
  4. O Wilhelme, pastor bone (in honour of Cardinal Wolsey)

Office music

  1. Alleluya. Veni electa (4 voices)
  2. Alleluya (4 voices)
  3. Te Deum (5 voices)

Motets

  1. Audivi vocem de caelo (4 voices)
  2. Ave Maria (5 voices)
  3. Dum transisset sabbatum (I) (5 voices, also a 4 voice edition)
  4. Dum transisset sabbatum (II) (4 voices)
  5. Ecce carissimi
  6. Ex ejus tumba - Sospitati dedit aegro
  7. Fac nobis secundum hoc nomen (5 voices)
  8. Fecundata sine viro (3 voices)
  9. Hodie nobis caelorum rex
  10. In pace in idipsum (4 voices)
  11. Jesu spes poenitentibus (3 voices)
  12. Magnificat (4 voices)
  13. Magnificat (5 voices)
  14. Magnificat (6 voices)
  15. Mater Christi (5 voices)
  16. O Christe Jesu pastor bone (5 voices)
  17. Prudens virgo (3 voices)
  18. Sancte deus (5 voices)
  19. Sub tuum presidium (5 voices)
  20. Tam peccatum (3 voices)
  21. Traditur militibus (3 voices)
  22. Virgo pura (3 voices)

Other

  1. In trouble and adversity (SATB, a contrafactum
    Contrafactum
    In vocal music, contrafactum refers to "the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music"....

    on his four-part instrumental consort piece In Nomine).

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