I just finished another episode of my Renaissance English History Podcast (the most uncreatively named podcast ever!) (get it on itunes!) on Mary Tudor, and it got me thinking about church music during the five years that Mary reigned. She wasn’t famous for endowing any colleges, or really supporting scholars, but it could be said that she got the English choral tradition started.
During the Edwardian reformation when the Protestants essentially took control of all aspects of church worship, one of the things they got rid of was the music. Even now, very austere forms of Protestantism (Amish, Mennonite, other Germanic forms of Calvinism) shy away from great music and festivals. True story: I used to go to a Methodist church in Intercourse Pennsylvania (yes, that part is true, but that’s not the actual story) and every Christmas we were filled to the brim with Amish people at our service, since they didn’t have their own, and these crazy liberal Amish wanted some Stille Nacht before going home for another workday the next day.
So then Mary comes back into the picture for five years, and in her Chapel Royal she employed a few little known composers like, oh, the young William Byrd, and Thomas Tallis. You know, no biggie. Just the Gods of Anglican Church Music.
William Wizeman wrote in his chapter in Mary Tudor – Old and New Perspectives:
“[She] loved religious music and appreciated its importance in drawing her people back to the Catholic liturgy and Catholic belief; once again Mary showed prescience in perceiving the didactic role of the liturgy, and music that displayed ‘orthodoxy’, ‘intelligibility’ and ‘uniformity’ could serve this end… Mary lavished funds on musical foundations under royal patronage…”
The Early Music group Pomerium had a kickstarter campaign this past spring to fund a new album called “Music for Tudor Queens” and features music commissioned by Mary Tudor, and her half sister Elizabeth. The video below highlights the goals of the project (it was funded! Yay!) as well as giving some interesting history on the music. They also had a concert tour built around the music commissioned by Mary – program here, if you’re interested.
For many Anglicans, the only form of worship they ever went to was Evensong, and it was Mary who kept that tradition alive during her counter-reformation, and Elizabeth who kept it going. So yay Mary.