Friday, August 13, 2010

Audio Post - Thomas Tallis, Canon

Did you ever make a discovery, say, a restaurant or a TV show, and you think you've just found this great little gem that no one's ever heard of, and it turns out you're the last one to the party? "Hey check out this great book I just discovered...it's called 'Catcher in the Rye,'" or "you should check out this cool old movie I just saw...it's called 'Citizen Kane'!"

That's kind of how I'm feeling right now about Thomas Tallis's Canon. A week or so ago, I had never heard of Thomas Tallis. A few weeks prior I had stumbled across this video--it's Steven Mead leading a large group of euphs down in Campinas, Brazil, and they're playing some unspecified canon. Well, that's pretty, I thought. I had wanted to do a proof-of-concept multi-track recording with my current setup, and for some reason I had been procrastinating. This tune seemed like it would be just the thing. So I shot a quick post to my friends on the Euphonium Forum on Dave Werden's site hoping to get a name for that tune. The replies were quick. The piece was Thomas Tallis's Canon, which is apparently a pretty well known piece. I think it shows up all over the place in hymnals under the name of "Glory to Thee" or "All Praise to Thee" or some other two syllables followed by "to Thee." While I'm quite familiar with some of the great religious works of the Classical Music Masters (Mozart's "Great" Mass, and the Requiems of Mozart, Verdi, and Brahms, all rank high on my list of Best Music Ever); aside from the periodic Easter or Christmas brass quintet gig, I have had very little exposure to the contents of a hymnal. But hymnals are really the great laboratory for gorgeous 4-part harmony. I have scribblings in various old staff books littering my studio with transcriptions of a few hymns. I used to have some old hymnals that I'd picked up at used bookstores here and there for a buck. Lamentably, it looks like none of them made the cut when we moved to Fallsington two years ago. Perhaps a more diligent search of the stacks is in order, or, failing that, a trip to the local used bookstore.

English composer Thomas Tallis was born on some unknown date in the early 16th century. He died in 1585, exactly a hundred years before the births of Bach and Handel. His Wikipedia biography contains this intriguing bit:

In 1575, Queen Elizabeth granted to him and William Byrd a twenty-one year monopoly for polyphonic music[15] and a patent to print and publish music, which was one of the first arrangements of that type in the country.[16] Tallis's monopoly covered 'set songe or songes in parts', and he composed in English, Latin, French, Italian, or other tongues as long as they served for music in the Church or chamber.[17] Tallis had exclusive rights to print any music, in any language. He and William Byrd were the only ones allowed to use the paper that was used in printing music. [The citations can be seen at wikipedia]


Well that's pretty cool. I wouldn't mind being granted a 21 year monopoly on polyphony, and exclusive rights to print any music in any language. I'm thinking that could be pretty lucrative...what with iTunes and all.

The recording setup this time is different from my usual fare. In this case I recorded directly to Audacity on my very beat up old Dell laptop. Perhaps that was somewhat unwise: after I had recorded all the parts and almost finished editing, the application crashed, taking my unsaved recording with it. Fortunately I wasn’t deterred and just recorded the whole thing again. The mic I used is a Shur SM57 which I can plug directly into my USB port with the help of a nice plug and play interface cable. I forget who makes this cable, but it works beautifully.



Thomas Tallis, Canon. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

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