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Program Notes: A Renaissance Christmas

For our Christmas celebration this year, we offer a selection of English music dating from the mid-16th to the late-17th centuries. With the Tallis Scholars, a quartet of viols, a wind player, lute, and organ we have the necessary forces to present much of the wonderful vocal and instrumental music of the time. Some of this music is designed for voices alone, of course, and so we will hear The Tallis Scholars sing an ornate and sonorous antiphon composed during the reign of Henry VIII as well as the moving and expressive setting of Nunc dimittis by the greatest musician of Elizabeth’s reign, William Byrd.


There will be instrumental music as well—courtly and rustic dances, fantasies, and a few lovely compositions with repeating bass patterns known as ground basses. But there are also anthems and carols here for singers and instruments, making use of the interplay of voice, viols, and organ.


We are covering a lot of musical ground, so there is quite a bit of stylistic difference between some of the pieces, yet English music does have certain characteristics that seem to span the centuries. In all of this music you will hear the full sweet harmonies that were England’s contribution to the music of the Renaissance. We have selected vocal music that for the most part was composed for the advent and Christmas season and instrumental pieces with the appropriate spirit of the season.

Robert Eisenstein

Robert Eisenstein

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