John Tavener (c. 1490 – 1545)

In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, Europe saw the church’s influence weakened politically, culturally, and theologically. With the organization of labor in guilds, and the increase of industry, local economies began to develop, leading to the rise of political states rivaling the power of the Church and the rise of a new aristocracy associated with the development of industry and trade. Previously, Latin had been the language of the church and of learning. With the rise of political states, their vernacular languages also developed. In the course of time, the vernacular became acceptable in courts of law and literature. With the invention and development of the printing press by Gutenberg in the early 15th century, the dissemination of ideas proliferated and empowered those who could afford the published books and pamphlets, wresting control of learning from the realm of the Church, which previously could provide the labor of monks to copy and decorate manuscripts in the official language of the church, Latin, and to disseminate it. With the advent of movable type, the power of the press and the printed word increased exponentially, expanding the scope of education beyond that provided by the Church. The power of ideas grew with the spread of learning from Church to university and to trade guilds.  The publication of ideas escaped the censorial grip of ecclesiastical authority, becoming available via commercial interests to a secular culture which became increasingly independent of the hurch.

Not all of these developments can be attributed to the printing press. Indeed, in the early 14th century, John Wycliff, writing in the official language of the church, Latin, laid the foundation for England to sever political and ecclesiastical ties to the Church and the establishment of the Church of England, based upon the model of its parent; not beholden to it, but “free” to serve the English monarchy. Wycliff, an ordained priest and a professor of theology at Oxford, introduced the doctrine of predestination, which, in some form or another, has dogged Protestant throughout its history. From that doctrine were derived notions of manifest destiny in the later colonization of distant lands by European powers, and even today by Christian notions in various degrees of “God’s will.”

With Wycliff arises a notion picked up by Luther and other reformers almost a century later that no priestly intermediary is necessary for a relationship of the Christian with God; rather, all persons are priests with the capacity of direct communion with God. God is not the exclusive property of the Church. Rather than the assertion of some Catholic mystics, such as St. Francis, that the world reveals the glory of God, Wycliff, in releasing laity from dependence upon the Church for direct communion with God, he taught a dualism and notion of Original Sin that harasses Protestantism yet  today;  he challenged the Catholic notion of transubstantiation which held that in the Catholic Eucharist the bread not merely represented the body of Christ but upon its consecration became the body of Christ, and the wine became his blood – not symbolically but literally. As a middle ground, he put forth the theological notion that Christ’s blood and body did not change the substance of the bread and wine, but became spiritually present in consubstantiation with Christ. He recommended that the Church in England declare independence from the Catholic Church.

At that same time, the riches of the earth and its minerals were discovered, mined and utilized in England and traded throughout Europe. The increase of the woolen industry, saw the rise of the business class, and, through trade with other European centers of commerce, brought great wealth to England. The manorial system throughout Europe had been weakened by the Church’s release of peasants from fealty to join the Crusades and by the influence of its encounters with Muslim and other civilizations in the process.

As political power became concentrated in local areas throughout Europe, and as they gained independence from the authority of the Church, conflicts between the states often resulted in war, some of it fitful and prolonged, as the Hundred Years War. That further weakened the manorial system. The populace shifted its allegiances from feudal lords and swore loyalty to its King. During that time the English language was established as the language of both English law and its courts. Increasingly, literature was written in the vernacular. Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales in the latter portion of the 14th century and through its characters provided the reader a baudy view of contemporary English political, ecclesiastical and social society of that time.

Biblical scholarship took a leap in England with Tyndale’s publication of the English New Testament. It was distinguished from prior versions in that he returned to the original Hebrew and Greek sources rather than the traditional Latin Vulgate. His intention was to make that Scripture directly accessible to the laity rather than as restricted to priestly mediation under the authority of papal orthodoxy.

John Tavener

John Tavener, an organist, and composer, was known as the most important English composer of his time. He wrote sacred vocal music, primarily, including masses, motets, antiphons, and Magnificats.

Like Johannes Ockeghem, he based a Mass upon a popular secular song, “The Western Wynde;”  and Johannes Ockeghem later wrote a mass on the same melody. Unusual for the day, John Tavener introduces that melody by three of the four voices of the Mass, at different times, nine times each.  In order to make each of the mass sections approximately of equal length, those with fewer words are more melismatically treated, as in the Gloria in the Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  He also frequently uses the cantus firmus of a plainchant in an interior part, often augmenting it to draw it out, and to some extent disguise it from superficial hearing.  Some of his masses include sections for soloists rather than the entire choir. The solo sections marked with the words “In Nomine” were at times scored for instruments.  Other composers began writing for groups of instruments, such as a viol consort, upon his modeling, also designated by the words, In Nomine. He often used material from a motet that he had composed to construct a mass.  The resultant form was called a “parody” mass.

You will also note that during this period of the Renaissance, although chordal progressions are limited, there is a sense of “drive to the cadence,” which is a major step toward chordal progression.

See for a performance of the Gloria from his “Westron wind

See for a performance of his Sanctus and Benedictus from Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, with video that visually follows his score.

See for a video of his Dum transisset sabbatum in the cathedral setting by Cappella Nicolai as it originally would have been performed.
See for a performance of his ‘Dum transisset Sabbatum,’ Easter Sunday with video representation of the score.

See for a recording of his complete Missa O Michael, with video identification of the mass sections.

See and for his instrumental, In Nomine.

This performance of “The Mother of God” is sublime: is sublime!

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