Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Missa Puer natus est nobis

Tallis must have written the Puer natus est nobis mass for seven voices for a special occasion. No definitive evidence has been found, but the choice for Christmas music, the style (the old-fashioned cantus firmus in extended notes in the tenor part alongside more modern imitation between the parts) and the work’s broad scope suggest that it was written for the arrival of the Philip II of Spain in England, in 1554. Philip came to marry queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. It is certain that Philip II was in England on Christmas day, and it is also known that English catholics hoped that Mary would give birth to a son and heir to the throne. That would mean that we should see ‘puer natus est nobis’ (a child is born unto us) as a an inspiration.

It is also certain that Philip II had brought his famous Capilla Flamenca (his ‘Flemish church choir’) with him. A few of the most authoritative composers of the Flemish style, which enjoyed great international prestige, sang in the choir, such as Philippe de Monte. This visit by the crème de la crème from Tallis’ former musical life probably inspired him to demonstrate the best of his abilities.

This work also did not survive complete. Only a small part of the Credo has been found, the second alto part is missing from the first section of the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei is missing the entire second alto part as well as the first bass part from the first two sections. David Wulstan and Sally Dunkley added these parts.

Text: Dick van Teylingen. English translation: Peter Hilton.

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