Music in honor of St. Thomas of Canterbury / Accademia Monteverdiana
Medieval Carols, Conductus, Motets, Masses & Plainsong

Nonesuch H-71292 (Stereo)

Side One [21:44]

1. Anon. c. 1300 · Motet [2:48]
Thomas gemma Cantuariae
tenors, viols, bells

2. Anon. 15th cent. · Carol [3 :58]
Laetare Cantuaria

3. Leonel POWER, ?-1445 · [3:47]
Credo Opem nobis
countertenor I, tenor I, viols

4. Attr. to John BENET, early 15th century [5:17]
Sanctus Jacet granum

5. Anon. c. 1165 · Threnody [1:35]
In Rama sonat gemitus

6. Anon. · Sequence [3:59]
Solemne canticum

Side Two [22:49]

1. Anon. · Responsory & Prosa [7:31]
Jacet granum
countertenors, tenor I, viols, chorus

2. Anon.  c. 1173 · Conductus [3:11]
Novus miles sequitur
countertenor I, tenors, bells

3. Anon. 15th century · Carol [4:39]
Clangat tuba, martyr Thoma

4. Anon. 13th century · Antiphon [3:25]
Pastor caesus in gregis medio
countertenor II, tenors, viols, bells

5. Anon. · Sequence [3:44]
Ante thronum regentis omnia


Mark Deller, countertenor I
Kevin Smith, countertenor II
Nigel Rogers, tenor I
Edgar Fleet, tenor II
John Noble, baritone
John Frost, bass

Joseph Skeaping, tenor viol
Trevor Jones, bass viol
David Squibb, bells

David Squibb, choirmaster


We are constantly reminded by past history and present phenomena of the dangerously thin crust of our civilization, and its long struggle to cover or contain the bestiality and barbarism in the world. Quite often it loses the struggle for a brief moment, and in that flash of time disaster can strike a deadly blow anywhere, at anyone. Such a disaster occurred in Canterbury Cathedral, not far from the high altar, early in the evening of December 29, 1170, when four armed knights brutally murdered the defenceless Thomas Becket, the first English archbishop of the see and the arch-enemy of King Henry II Plantagenet.

The events leading up to this tragedy have been frequently recounted in books, novels, films, plays, and even in oratorio and opera. But whatever the intricacy or inevitability of those events, we are bound to realize that the dominant force behind them was a kind of medieval joust for power — the power of a king over his subjects, or of the church over a king. Henry and Thomas, close friends in their youth, quarreled because neither one would yield to the other. The king pleaded divine right, the archbishop divine guidance. As a result Becket was murdered by royal supporters, the king did penance, and the tomb of the martyr became a place of pilgrimage for the entire world.

Many miracles were wrought at the tomb, if legend can be believed. And if it cannot, then we should at least recognize it as a minor miracle that music written in Becket's honor — some of it even written in his lifetime — can now be brought back to life despite the complexities of medieval notation, the problems of incomplete source-materials, and the illegibility of chant manuscripts defaced by command of Henry VIII. Since many of the texts in honor of St. Thomas refer to events in his life, a brief biography will serve to make known the milestones of a remarkable career.

Thomas Becket was born in Cheapside, London, of Norman parents in the year 1118. He studied at the Augustinian Priory of Merton in Surrey, and later at the universities of Paris and Bologna. As chancellor to Henry II, he accompanied him on the Toulouse campaign and was apparently responsible for giving the royal trumpeters the signal to sound the attack; traces of this role are found in the texts Clangat pastor in tuba cornea and Clangat tuba, martyr Thoma.

When he had served as chancellor for eight years, he was proposed by the king as Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket accepted, but insisted on giving up his previous appointment, much to Henry's annoyance. Their friendship soured, and Becket decided to devote himself wholly to the service of God and the church. He fought to retain the right of trying delinquent clergy in ecclesiastical rather than in civil courts, and Henry fought back. Becket was betrayed by some of the bishops and went to live in France, like a Joseph sold by his brethren (to borrow an image from In Rama sonat gemitus).

After six years in exile, Becket agreed to meet the king and attempt a reconciliation. Although this was not entirely successful, Canterbury was able to welcome back its archbishop and a quiet period ensued before the final storm. When Becket excommunicated a number of recalcitrant bishops, four knights broke into the cathedral and murdered him . The tragic news traveled to every corner of Britain and Europe, and hundreds of churches were renamed in his memory. Out of evil came good, or (in the phraseology of the texts) out of the chaff came the wholesome corn. Thomas was canonized in 1173, and from that time forth his name and example have inspired artists, poets, and musicians throughout the world. [For additional information, see The Musical Quarterly, LVI (1970), pp. 311-348.]

Side One

1. Thomas gemma Cantuariae. In 1295, a monk of St. Martin's Priory, Dover, named Thomas de la Hale was killed when the French raided the coast. It was an appropriate time to write a pair of commemorative poems, one for him and the other for the Canterbury martyr, and combine them in a single musical setting. The poems are sung simultaneously over a supporting instrumental duo. The regularity of the paragraphs, the recurrence of piquant cadences, and the lively interchange of the vocal lines make this one of the most attractive of all medieval English motets.

2. Laetare Cantuaria. Three carols with music in honor of Becket have survived from the mid-15th century, when this attractive genre was at the height of its development. The carols are distinguished by their linguistic variety: some are in English, some in Latin, and some in a mixture of the two. This one is entirely in Latin and gathers typical momentum by alternating three-part choruses (called ‘burden’ in the 15th-century terminology) with two-part duets sung by soloists, each duet presenting a new verse.

3. Credo Opem nobis. One of the most original and inventive of 15th-century English composers, Leonel Power was exactly the right man to compose music in honor of St. Thomas, for he was a gentleman of the city of Canterbury and died there in 1445. He wrote a Gloria as well as this Credo based on plainchant melodies from the saint's liturgy, uniting them by such easily recognizable stylistic features as the prompting of the upper voice by the lower. The Credo, based on the melody of a rhymed antiphon Opem nobis o Thoma porrige, is a tour de force for a solo countertenor, whose lissome and loquacious line derives sustenance from a tenor and two instruments.

4. Sanctus Jacet granum. Three 15th-century Mass sections are based on the principal respond for the Feast of St. Thomas, Jacet granum. Two of them, a Gloria and a Sanctus, are by John Benet, of whom little is at present known; the third work, the Sanctus recorded here, resembles the others so closely that it may also be Benet's. The flowing consonances of the three-part chorus sections balance beautifully against the sensuous asceticism of the duets, so that the final impression is one of conscious but consummate musical architecture.

5. In Rama sonat gemitus. This plaint for solo voice is the earliest surviving piece of music about Becket. Since it mentions his exile in France, it must date from the period 1164-1170, though it was not copied into its only extant manuscript source until much later. In the poem, Rama refers to Canterbury, Rachel to the Mother Church, Herod to Henry II, while the Joseph sold by his jealous brethren is Becket.

6. Solemne canticum hodie. This is the proper Sequence at Mass on the Feast of St. Thomas, December 29. Regular in form, it begins and ends with single verses framing several—in this case eight—double versicles, each pair having its own particular melody. The alternation of men and boys draws attention to this feature.

Side Two

1. Jacet granum. It is unlikely that a prosa has ever been recorded before in its proper liturgical form, so these few words of explanation may not be out of place. On the vigil of the feast (December 28) there would be a procession to the altar of St. Thomas in those churches possessing one, and during that procession the respond Jacet granum would be sung in plainchant. The verse Cadit custos would follow, leading to a repeat of the last line of the respond. While the officiant censed the altar and the image of the saint, the prosa Clangat pastor would be sung in the manner prescribed in the chant books—melody with text, repeat of melody to the syllable ‘a’, repeat of melody with new text, repeat of melody to ‘a’.- This pattern would prevail for the remainder of the prosa. In this recording, the respond itself is replaced by an early-14th-century motet based on the chant associated with the words Jacet granum . . . pravorum framea. The twin texts of the motet's upper voices provide tropes to the responsory, the story of Thomas slain by a jealous king alternating with the tale of Hyacinth slain by a jealous god.

2. Novus miles sequitur. The three verses of this expressive, homophonic work are so full of precise historical references that it can be dated with fair accuracy to the spring of 1173,  shortly after Becket's canonization. A three-part version of the music from a medieval French manuscript in Florence has been utilized in this performance for the first and third verses; the second is sung in a two-part setting found in a Spanish manuscript from the monastery of Las Huelgas.

3. Clangat tuba, martyr Thoma is another anonymous carol, this one mixing Latin and English texts. The principle of alternation between burden and verses is, however, the same as in Laetare Cantuaria.

4. Pastor caesus in gregis medio. In churches without an altar to St. Thomas there would be no procession for his feast but rather a memorial consisting of antiphon, verse, response, and collect. The antiphon Pastor caesus is rhymed, and its melody supplies the tenor for this motet of the mid-13th century. Two upper voices sing the texts (but not the associated melodies) of two more antiphons from the Office of St. Thomas—Opem nobis and Salve, Thoma. A fourth voice adds gentle dissonances. In this recording, the polyphonic version is made to frame the poem in its plainchant setting.

5. Ante thronum. This little-known Sequence comes from the same source as Sumer is icumen in, and there is no doubt about its English origin. Thirty more Sequences in honor of Becket prove, however, that devotion to him was extremely widespread, since examples are found from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland.


Side One
Band 1—Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Lat.liturg.d.20; Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 512/543; Princeton, University Library, MS Garrett 119
Band 2—London, British Museum, MS Add. 5665
Band 3—London, British Museum, MS Add. 57590, formerly The Old Hall Manuscript
Band 4—Aosta, Biblioteca del Seminario maggiore, MS without shelf number
Band 5—Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek, MS 628
Band 6—Graduale ad usum ecclesiae Sarisburiense, Paris, Regnault, 1532

Side Two
Band 1—Oxford, New College, MS 362; Antiphonale ad usum ecclesiae Sarisburiense, Paris, W. Hopyl for Byrckman, 1519
Band 2—Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Pluteus 29.1; Burgos, Monasterio de Las Huelgas, MS without shelf number
Band 3—London, British Museum, MS Add. 5665
Band 4—London, Westminster Abbey, MS 33327
Band 5—London, British Museum, MS Harley 978

Side One, Bands 1, 3-6 · Side Two, Bands 1 (Responsory), 2-4—ed. by Denis Stevens, with Alexander Blachly, Joan Long, Cornelia Weininger (Music in Honour of St Thomas of Canterbury), London, Novello, 1970.
Side One, Band 2—ed. by John Stevens (Musica Britannica IV), London, Stainer & Bell, 1952.
Side Two, Bands 1 (Prosa) & 5—no mod. ed.

recorded in London by the Accademia Monteverdiana
engineering / Anthony Stevens
mastering / Robert C. Ludwig (Sterling Sound, Inc.)
coordinator / Teresa Sterne
cover art / Peter Schaumann
cover design / Paula Bisacca
(P) & (C) &   1974 Nonesuch Records, a Division of Warner Communications Inc.
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