Nicholas LUDFORD / The Cardinall's Musick
Missa Benedicta et venerabilis Magnificat Benedicta


AS&V Gaudeamus 132

with Plainsong Propers for the Feast of Assumption

01 - Introitus. Gaudeamus omnes [4:23]

02 - Kyrie. Deus creator omnium [2:11]


04 - Graduale. Propter veritatem [2:29]

05 - Alleuya. Hodie Maria virgo [2:28]

06 - Sequencia. Area virga [4:38]


08 - Offertorium. Diffusa est gratia [1:41]

09 - MISSA BENEDICTA ET VENERABILIS. Sanctus · Benedictus [12:03]


11 - Communio. Beata viscera Marie [0:50]


13 - Responsorium. Beata es virgo Maria [3:17]

Andrew Carwood, David Skinner

Sopranos: Carys Lane, Rebecca Outram, Rachael Wheatley
Altos: Michael Lees, Nigel Short, Stephen Taylor
Tenors: Simon Berridge, Philip Cave, Simon Davis, James Gilchrist, David Jones, James Oxley
Baritones: Robert Evans, Matthew Vine, Edward Wickham
Basses: Simon Birchall, Bruce Hamilton, Adrian Hutton, Robert Macdonald, Michael McCarthy, Adrian Peacock


Volume II

Nicholas Ludford is perhaps the most elusive of all early Tudor composers. Although undeniably a great master of composition, over the centuries he has consistently managed to avoid the public eye; records concerning his movements during his lifetime are scarce and he was rarely mentioned after his death in around 1557. Unlike many of his contemporaries, neither a monument nor any written tribute exists to his life's work. Indeed many of England's great cathedral and collegiate foundations can claim a famous composer, and one can still visit these historical places and observe the environment in which some of the great Tudor masters flourished: Fayrfax at St Alban's Abbey, Taverner and Sheppard at Christ Church and Magdalen College, Oxford, respectively; Tallis at Waltham Abbey and Byrd at Lincoln. Nicholas Ludford was employed in what is now the heart of London at the Royal Chapel of St Stephen's, Westminster. However, the buildings in which Ludford lived and worked, and the chapel where his music once sounded, no longer exist - yet another circumstance which has contributed to his relative anonymity.

The Chapel of St Stephen's, Westminster, was constructed in 1292 under Edward I and was one of the first examples of perpendicular architecture in England, later to be reflected in the cathedrals at Canterbury, Ely, Gloucester, Winchester and York. The chapel replaced an earlier building which in spite of an original dedication to King Stephen (d.1154), was later transferred to the protomartyr, St Stephen (Ludford's festal mass Lapidaverunt Stephanum was undoubtedly composed for use at St Stephen's). The chapel remained the royal place of worship at Westminster until its dissolution by King Henry VIII in 1547, after which it was relegated to the use of the House of Commons and suffered several alterations until its ultimate destruction by fire in 1834. The only external building to survive from the original royal palace is Westminster Hall, which still may be seen today shadowed by the 19th-century clock tower housing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

As the private chapel to the king, and the customary venue for the baptism of royalty, St Stephen's held great cultural and political significance in late-medieval England; one might imagine the closest parallel to have been the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Thanks to a few surviving 16th-century sketches and woodcuts, as well as detailed drawings and observations by certain late 18th- and early 19th-century antiquarians, we have a fairly clear idea of how Ludford's place of employment looked. According to Maurice Hastings's descriptive account (Cambridge, 1955), the building was divided into an upper and lower chapel. The latter was given the name 'Saint Mary-in-the-Vaults' and existed so that the household in the lower chapel could hear mass celebrated in the upper chapel. The upper chapel was divided into five bays and, by contemporary standards, the interior was highly ornate, elaborated with detailed stone carvings of Saints' images which rested between each stained-glass window embroidered with beautifully delicate tracery. Of the furnishings, when the building of Eton College chapel was under way, its founder, King Henry VI, stated that the choir stalls and pulpitum were to be like those in his chapel at Westminster. Ludford might have lived in one of the verger's lodgings housed in the adjacent cloister between the chapel and Westminster Hall.

The music performed in St Stephen's Chapel complemented its surroundings in both beauty and architectural conception. Edward Higgons, a canon of St Stephen's and contemporary of Ludford, copied some of the repertoire performed there into an enormous choirbook (now in Cambridge University Library). Included are all of Ludford's festal masses as well as several compositions by his older contemporary Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521). To judge from the scoring of Ludford's works, the choir for which he composed possessed some of the finest singers in England. The virtuosity of his treble line is displayed in Missa Videla miraculum (Volume One of the present series - CD GAU 131), whilst in Missa Benedicta et venerabilis the opposite end of the vocal spectrum is exploited with two low bass parts, creating an exceptionally dark and sonorous effect. The plainsong cantus firmus upon which this mass is based is the verse of the matins respond Beata es virgo Maria from the feast of the Assumption (August 15). The complementary Magnificat is, unusually, also based on this plainsong (English Magnificat settings were normally based on psalm-tones rather than independent melodies). The Mass probably pre-dates the Magnificat as the latter displays more mature part-writing within longer strands of imitation. Here Ludford also incorporates the treble part into the head-motif, providing a fresh contrast to the opening bars of each movement of the Mass.

1993 David Skinner


Missa Benedicta et venerabilis, Magnificat Benedicta et venerabilis
Cambridge University Library,
Gonville and Caius MS 667, p.48 (Mass); p.136 (Magnificat).
The Mass is also in London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 1, p.50.

Oxford, Christ Church Library,
Graduale secundum morem et consuetudinem preclare ecciesie Sarum politissimis formulis (ut res ipsa indicat) in alma Parisionim Academia impressum (Paris, 1527).
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodl. 948, f. 304v.
Antiphonale ad usum Sarisburiensis (London, 15th cent.).

Music edited by David Skinner, and published by The Cardinall's Musick Edition

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