Miserere Nostri

Thomas Tallis

edited:Alistair Dixon

  Cat. 0001    
  Genre: Motet  
  Liturgical Use: Devotional  
  Vocal Disposition: SSTTBarBB  

Miserere Nostri belongs to the English Elizabethan tradition of setting the Miserere texts,  Miserere Mei, Miserere Mihi and Miserere Nostri to canonic musical settings, primarily as a demonstration of technical skill. 

Tallisís setting is a canon six in two;  six voices are used to create a simultaneous or double canon. The first is a canon at the unison, between the two highest voices. Superius 1 is the antecedent (the first sounding voice) by one semi-breve. The second is a mensuration canon of four voices, all beginning simultaneously. The Discantus part is the antecedent with the Contra tenor in canon in double augmentation (the notes are four times longer). The two Bassus parts are in canon per Arsin et Thesin, that is they are inverted so that upward intervals in the antecedent are downward in the consequent (the answer). Bassus 2 is augmented (the note values are doubled) and Bassus 1 is triple augmented (the note values are eight times longer). 

Despite this complexity and the consequently dense texture, Miserere Nostri sounds unmistakably like Tallis containing no stilted or contrived writing that can sometimes pervade in less successful canonic essays. 

The two leading canonic voices, Superius and Discantus are both marked with signa indicating in the case of the Superius part the point at which the consequent enters, and in the case of the Discantus part the extent of the mensural canons.

Tallis wrote Miserere Nostri during the reign of Elizabeth I sometime before 1575. In his hand-written score of 1770 (Lbm Add. MSS. 14398) Mr. Warren ascribes it to 1570, though it is not known on what authority. 


The text appears at least twice in the liturgy: as verse 3 of psalm 122 and as the anti-penultimate verse of the Te Deum. The phrase Miserere nostri is an alternative form of the more familiar Miserere nobis found in the mass ordinary.
Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri. Have mercy on us Lord have mercy on us.


Cantiones Sacrae 1575. A collection of Latin motets published jointly by Tallis and his younger contemporary, William Byrd, in 1575 and designed primarily for use in private performance. It was typeset by Thomas Vautrollerius under the supervision of the composers but since it was the first published music in England their lack of experience clearly shows. Not all errors were spotted at the proof stage and frequently the print run was stopped and further corrections made. Each one of the 15 or so extant copies of Cantiones Sacrae differ in minor detail. The Discantus part book ascribes Miserere Nostri to W. Birdi rather than T. Tallis - a printerís error which is perhaps explicable because motet number 29 is Miserere Mihi by Byrd. A further error is the omission of the time signatures in the Superius Secundus and Contra Tenor parts. 

Miserere Nostri is the thirty fourth and final motet in the collection. The index describes Miserere Nostri thus; 

6 partes in duabus, cum, uni parte ad placitum. (Canon six in two, one freely composed part). 

The part books all have inscriptions as follows; 
Superius: Due partes in una. Canon in uni sonus
Superius secundus: Canon in uni sonus
Discantus: Quatuor partes in una, Canon in uni sonus, Crescit in duplo, Arsim & thesim
Contra tenor: Canon in uni sonus 
Tenor: Voluntaria pars
Bassus: Canon in uni sonus
Bassus secundus: Canon in uni sonus

Editorial Procedures and Conventions 

Clefs and signatures: The original clefs and signatures are indicated in the prefatory staves.
Note values and barring:
Note values have been kept at the original values. Bar lines have been inserted to give 23 bars of two semibreves each.
Transposition: The pitch has been transposed up by a tone making it suitable for performance with two Sopranos, two tenors, baritone and two basses. Transposition up a further tone would enable altos to tackle the tenor parts, with tenors being able to sing the baritone part.
The voice names are given in the prefatory staves. In Cantiones Sacrae, the Superius 2 and Bassus 2 parts are given in the Sexta pars part book.
No accidentals have been inserted or suggested, and none are required.
Text and Underlay: Text underlay given explicitly in the source is printed in the normal serif typeface. Editorial verbal repetitions indicated in the source by the sign ij are shown in italics.