Concert venue

Corpus Christi Basilica

ul. Bożego Ciała 26, Kraków

Concert date

October 6, 2020; 8pm

Admission free

English Motets

During the renaissance, musical compositions flourished, but it was a time of great change, fuelled by religious division. This programme traces music written by some of the English renaissance masters over a period of two-hundred years, encompassing florid medieval-sounding works by Plummer, intricately woven polyphonic works by Tallis and Sheppard, and the beautiful simplicity of Tomkins and White.
All of these composers were obliged to write in the musical style of the moment, which was constantly fluctuating in one of the most turbulent periods in English history. Lavish Catholic services required suitably elaborate music, with Latin words and rich sonorities. The Protestants did away with such excess, and, as the walls were whitewashed, so too was the music, with demands placed on composers to set English words as simply as possible, so that every syllable could be clearly heard by the congregation. Then, during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, came a kind of relaxed simplicity, a halfway house, in which the ideal was both that the words could be heard clearly and also that the music should be interesting.
The enormous contribution to this period by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd is represented by the inclusion of three works from each composer, showcasing the versatility of their writing. While all composers in Tudor England were flexible to the period’s shifting religious requirements, none was quite as skillful at reinvention than Tallis; his musical quality remains absolutely consistent, even while his style changes dramatically. Byrd gave voice to the plight of Catholics in England through many of his compositions, utilising his royal favour to escape punishment for his beliefs, and in doing so wrote some of the most enduring and powerful music of the era.
The incredible productivity of composers writing during this period, coupled with the advent of printed sheet music has resulted in a wealth of material available today. The Gesualdo Six will present only a little part of it, and selecting the pieces representing the English Motets was not an easy task. Nevertheless, they perform these compositions with joy and freshness because it is the music they all grew up singing.