Magnificat for four voices

Thomas Tallis

edited:Alistair Dixon

  Cat. 0029    

  Genre: Magnificat  
  Liturgical Use: Vespers
  Vocal Disposition: SSAT (high)
TTBarB (low)

  Price: £2.25  

The four voice Magnificat is one of Tallis’ earliest surviving works and must be roughly contemporary with two of his votive antiphons; Ave Dei Patris Filia  and Ave Rosa Sine Spinis. Unlike these two works, however, the Magnificat is scored for four voices alone, two tenors, a baritone and a bass (or AATB at notated pitch and SSAT in upward transposition).

The youthfulness of the work and use of a modest four voice texture suggest that the Magnificat was composed when Tallis was at the beginning of his compositional career – perhaps at Dover Priory. In many ways the work is experimental; several times Tallis uses unprepared dissonances and writes open chords, both of which were stylistic features he quickly left behind. However, the text is set with careful attention to syllable stress and a close engagement with his text was to become a defining feature for the rest of Tallis’ compositional life.

Tallis sets the six even numbered verses of the Magnificat and doxology to polyphony and the odd numbered verses are supplied here to tone 1 from the Use of Sarum. As Paul Doe has pointed out rather than using the tone 1 chant as a cantus firmus Tallis bases the alto line (in this transposition) to a tone 1 faburden; that is, a counter-melody which fits the tone harmonically. The use of faburden had previously been widespread in England as a means of elaborating and decorating the plainchant tones.


The original spelling used in the Gyffard partbooks has been retained in this edition.


The sole source of the Magnificat is the Gyffard Partbooks, a collection of four part pieces compiled by Dr Roger Gyffard in the 1570s. The clean condition of the partbooks and the minimal number of corrections of the numerous errors they contain suggest that the books were hardly used by singers. The most likely explanation for their existence is that they were a retrospective collection of works that Gyffard was familiar with when he was an undergraduate at Christchurch in the 1560s. Other works by Tallis to be found in this collection are the two lady mass fragments Euge Caeli Porta and Alleluia: Ora Pro Nobis the Jesus antiphon Sancte Deus, the three small responds Hodie Nobis, In Pace and Audivi Vocem, and the mass for four voices.

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 according to the perfect and imperfect mensurations employed in the source.
Transposition: Three versions are available.
In the high pitch version for SSAT the pitch has been raised by a perfect fourth.
In the version for AATB the notated pitch has been retained
In the low pitch version for TTBarB the pitch has been lowered by a perfect fourth
Voice designations and ranges:
The editorís voice designations are given after the prefatory staves. The ranges of each part are indicated at the pitch of the modern edition.
Accidentals given in the source are shown within the stave. Where, in the source, a subsequent note of the same pitch is governed by the same accidental through being on the same line it is similarly allowed to prevail in the modern edition. If the note falls within a subsequent bar the inflection is indicated with a dotted accidental above the note.

Accidentals which are strongly implied through proximity with explicit source accidentals or by the rules of musica ficta are indicated above the note.
Text and Underlay: Text underlay given explicitly in the source is shown in a normal serif typeface. Editorial verbal repetitions indicated in the source by the sign II: are shown in serif italics.

Where no indication of verbal repetition is given in the source the editor’s suggested underlay is shown in italicised sans-serif font. In some instances the need for such interpolation is required to complete a word where only the first syllable given. In all other instances however, the additions are made so that melisma is not broken by rests.; for example contratenor bars 3-4. Performers aiming for a late medieval character should ignore such editorial additions ad libitum.

Click here to see low resolution versions of the first page:

Low pitch

High pitch

Click here to hear a midi file of the opening of the SSAATB version