John Taverner (around 1490 – October 18, 1545) is regarded as the most important English composer and organist of his era. Taverner reflected the political and historical events of the time in his musical output and showed, especially in the Cromwell dissolution of the monasteries, that he continued to retain a service towards all others in his concern for all aspects of religious and secular entities. Taverner truly worked toward benefiting the wider good and his moral consciousness, especially during the turbulent times under the reign of Henry VIII, showed that he could look beyond his employment to what was best for the religious and secular worlds.
Taverner was the first organist and Master of the Choristers at Christ Church, Oxford, appointed by Thomas Cardinal Wolsey in 1526. The college had been founded in 1525 by Wolsey, and was then known as Cardinal College. Immediately before this, Taverner had been a clerk fellow at the Collegiate Church of Tattershall, Lincolnshire. In 1528, he was reprimanded for his (probably minor) involvement with Lutherans, but escaped punishment for being "but a musician". Wolsey fell from favor in 1529, and in 1530, Taverner left the college. So far as anyone could tell, he had no further musical appointments, nor can any of his known works be dated to after that time, so he may have ceased composition. It is often said that after leaving Oxford, Taverner worked as an agent of Thomas Cromwell, the statesman and lawyer who pushed for an effective and well-running government under Henry the VIII's reign. Cromwell sought to end feudal privileges and poorly defined districts and jurisdictions, and thus acted to dissolve monasteries and improve tax collections. It is reputed that Taverner assisted in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, although the veracity of this is now thought to be somewhat questionable.
John Taverner is known to have settled eventually in Boston, Lincolnshire where he was a small landowner and reasonably well-off. He was appointed an alderman of Boston in 1545, shortly before his death. He is buried with his wife under the belltower at The Stump (Boston Parish Church).
Most of Taverner's music is vocal, and includes masses, Magnificats, and motets. The bulk of his output is thought to date from the 1520s. His best-known motet is "Dum Transisset Sabbatum."
His best known mass is based on a popular song, "The Western Wynde" (John Sheppard and Christopher Tye later also wrote masses based on this same song). Taverner's Western Wynde mass is unusual for the period because the theme tune appears in each of the four parts at different times. Commonly, his masses are designed so that each of the four sections (Gloria, Credo, Santus-Benedictus and Agnus) are about the same length, often achieved by putting the same number of repetitions of the thematic material in each. For example, in the Western Wynde mass, the theme is repeated nine times in each section. As the sections have texts of very different lengths, he uses extended melisma in the movements with fewer words.
Several of his other masses use the widespread cantus firmus technique where a plainchant melody with long note values is placed in an interior part, often the tenor. Examples of cantus firmus masses include Corona Spinea and Gloria tibi Trinitas. Another technique of composition is seen in his mass Mater Christi, which is based upon material taken from his motet of that name, and hence known as a "derived" or "parody" mass.
The mass Gloria tibi Trinitas gave origin to the style of instrumental works known as an In nomine. Although the mass is in six parts, some more virtuosic sections are in reduced numbers of parts, presumably intended for soloists, a compositional technique used in several of his masses. The section at the words "in nomine..." in the Benedictus is in four parts, with the plainchant in the alto. This section of the mass became popular as an instrumental work for viol consort. Other composers came to write instrumental works modeled on this, and the name In nomine was given to works of this type.
The life of Taverner was the subject of Taverner, an opera by Peter Maxwell Davies written in 1968.
All links retrieved May 23, 2018.
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