Ralph Vaughan Williams | Thomas Tallis

I first encountered the mystic sounds of the piece that is stuck in my head today as a freshmen at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in Spring of 2006. I was part of the schola cantorum, and this tune was the basis for one of psalm responses that was sung during the Easter Vigil. Ever since then, I’ve been enraptured when I hear its melody.

The melody is by Thomas Tallis, but has been brought to fame once more through the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams.  He is one of my favorite composers of the Romantic Period, and this piece is my favorite of his works.

Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis – Ralph Vaughan Williams


Thomas Tallis occupies a sort of unique position for composers of the sixteen century. He composed in Reformation England and is considered one of England’s greatest composers, composing both for the Church of England and for the Catholic Church.

The theme that Ralph Vaughan Williams borrows in his fantasia is from the third of nine psalm tones commissioned by Archbishop Matthew Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 through his death in 1575. The psalm tone in question was written for Psalm 2.

Thomas Tallis – Third Psalm Tune for Archbishop Parker – (“Why Fum’th in Fight”)


Psalme II

1. Why fumeth in sight: the Gentils spite,
In fury raging stout?
Why taketh in hond: the people fond,
Uayne thinges to bring about?

2. The kinges arise: the lordes deuise,
in counsayles mett therto:
Agaynst the Lord: with false accord,
against his Christ they go.

3. Let vs they say: breake downe their ray,
of all their bondes and cordes:
We will renounce: that they pronounce,
their loores as stately lordes.

4. But God of might: in heauen so bright,
Shall laugh them all to scorne:
The Lord on hie: shall them defie,
they shall be once forlorne.

(Verses 5 through 9 omitted in this recording)

9. With iron rod: as mighty God,
all rebels shalt thou bruse:
And breake them all: in pieces small,
as sherdes the potters vse.

10. Be wise therfore: ye kinges the more,
Receyue ye wisdomes lore:
Ye iudges strong: of right and wrong,
aduise you now before.

11. The Lorde in feare: your seruice beare,
with dread to him reioyce:
Let rages be: resist not ye,
him serue with ioyfull voyce.

12. The sonne kisse ye: lest wroth he be,
lose not the way of rest:
For when his ire: is set on fire,
who trust in hym be blest.

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