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Sound Inspires - Music from Renaissance Oxford

Saturday 29th October 2016 - 7:30pm

St Luke's, Chelsea

Sydney Street, London SW3 6N


Guest Director: Jeremy Summerly

In October 1526, Oxford’s newest college – the boastfully titled Cardinal College – was founded by Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England. Wolsey had been at school and university in Oxford so it was fitting for Wolsey to found an educational establishment in Oxford. And Cardinal College (later Christ Church) was a spectacular foundation, not least musically. The choir of sixteen choristers and at least a dozen singing men was a large and thoroughly professional outfit. It required a superlative musician to run this impressive ensemble, and John Taverner was just such a person.

The Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas is Taverner’s masterpiece, and it sparkles with contemporary fervour. The mass is based on a plainchant antiphon for Trinity Sunday: Cardinal College was dedicated to the Trinity, so the piece is locked into a time and a place. And the equal-note rendition of the plainchant in the second highest part in the In nomine section of the Benedictus spawned a whole new musical genre: the instrumental ‘In nomine’. All the while Taverner experimented with and combined continental imitative practice, thrilling sequential writing, and English harmonic sonorities in a unique way.


This was the musical landscape that surrounded John Sheppard as he grew up, and two years before Taverner died, Sheppard became Director of Music at Magdalen College in Oxford. Sheppard’s music also inhabited a unique soundworld – one that was characterized by bold harmonic shifts and a wilful and minimalistic fascination for choral textures. Four of Sheppard’s best-loved motets were presented here as footnotes to the four movements of Taverner’s Mass, in order to show how Taverner’s bold experiments influenced an equally bold and original younger contemporary.

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