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Sheppard’s Second, and more

January 21, 2011

John Sheppard (c.1515–1558), who often falls in the shadow cast by the more renowned Byrd and Tallis, was one of the great composers of the English renaissance, writing during what has been called the “golden age” of English cathedral music. His career, much of which was spent as Informator Choristarum of Magdalen College, Oxford, and as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, was served under three monarchs: Edward VI, his sister Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Despite his underservedly second-class reputation (now happily on the rise), he is responsible for some of the most beautiful music written in England during this period, and thus, as George Steel has said, for some of the most beautiful music written, ever. His setting of the Compline respond In pace in idipsum and the antiphon Libera nos, salva nos are peerless, as is his stunning six-part ‘Cantate’ mass, a paragon of the form in its Sarum-rite expression. His five-part setting of the Lord’s Prayer, written for its appointed recitation at the very beginning of Thomas Cranmer’s Communion office, is one of the few settings of the prayer, and it is very fine indeed.

Recent recordings of note include Stile Antico’s “Media vita,” and that group has included some of Sheppard’s best-known works (the In pace and Libera nos, as well as his three In manus tuas settings) on their earlier album, “Music for Compline.” Of note also is Paul McCreesh’s monumental reconstruction of a historical Sarum mass in Salisbury Cathedral, using the ‘Cantate’ mass for the ordinary.

Below, the evening canticles from Sheppard’s magnificent Second Service, sung by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

John Sheppard, on Wikipedia
John Sheppard, on HOASM


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