Morley was one of the most prolific composers during the 'Golden
Age' in English history under the rule of Elisabeth I. How much
she was considered responsible for the flowering of the arts
is impressively demonstrated by 'The Triumphs of Oriana', a
collection of several composers’ madrigals put together by Thomas
Morley in honour of the Queen. He himself was a productive and
distinguished composer of madrigals, which were strongly influenced
by Italian contemporaries. His many works in the genre have
overshadowed his sacred output, which has been largely neglected.
A search on the internet suggests this recording by Ferdinand's
Consort is the only one available entirely devoted to the sacred
was born in Norwich, where he became master of the choristers
of the cathedral in 1583. He had been the pupil of William Byrd:
when he published his treatise 'A Plaine and Easie Introduction
to Practicall Musicke' in 1597 he dedicated it to Byrd, calling
him his master. It seems that he became organist of St Paul's
Cathedral in London at the end of the 1580s. In the ensuing
years he began to compose madrigals, the first collection of
which appeared in 1593. Morley was also active as music publisher
and printer. In 1598 he received the patent on music printing,
which had been in the hands of William Byrd until 1596.
from some contributions to collections of psalm settings he
himself published none of Morley's sacred music was printed
during his lifetime. Publications of his works after his death
are not always considered reliable. For performances one has
to look into the sources, but - as John Bawden writes in the
booklet - these give considerable problems as in most cases
some partbooks are missing. The well-known British musicologist
Thurston Dart has been one of those who has been active in reconstructing
Morley's sacred works from original material.
of the present disc is devoted to music on English texts. The
First Service is the largest of Morley's three services.
The stylistic differences of the sections of this Service suggest
it wasn't written as a unity, but rather put together from pieces
composed at different stages in Morley's career. It is remarkable
how little of Morley's madrigal style has left its mark on this
music. There are several moments where the text is illustrated
in the music, but elsewhere there seems to be no direct connection
between text and music. Several sections are written in the
style of the verse anthem. The verses are sung by members of
the ensemble, and it is here that I am most disappointed by
these performances. Some singers use excessive vibrato, which
is especially annoying in these solo sections. But they also
undermine the overall sound of the ensemble.
Burial Service is a short collection of pieces on texts from
the Book of Common Prayer of 1552. Several of these texts are
better known from the settings by Henry Purcell: 'Man that is
born of a woman', 'In the midst of life we are in death' and
'Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts'. These pieces
are very moving, and they are pretty well sung, although their
emotional impact doesn't fully come through.
of Morley's best pieces is the motet 'De profundis clamavi',
but here it is partly spoilt by the sharp, unpleasant sound
of the tenors who almost overpower the rest of the ensemble
in the first phrases.
performances on this disc aren't quite what I was hoping for.
I have to admit that I find it difficult to appreciate this
repertoire sung by mixed choirs and vocal ensembles. I strongly
prefer performances by male voices alone. Quite apart from that
these performances too seldom really come to life.
fact that this disc is the only one available devoted entirely
to Morley's sacred music is the only reason to recommend it. Let
us hope some British cathedral or college choir is going to deliver
a recording which does full justice to this fine repertoire.
Johan van Veen