Christe Qui Lux (IV)
Robert Whiteedited:Alistair Dixon
No record of Robert White’s birth exists but he was possibly the son of the London organ builder. also named Robert White. On the award of his Batchelor of Music from Cambridge on December 13th 1560 the Grace Book records that he had been a student of music for ten years. If White was in his early to mid twenties at this point a birth date of c.1536-8 is possible. In 1561, White succeeded Christopher Tye as organist of Ely cathedral and in 1565 he married Ellen Tye, presumably Christopher Tye’s daughter. He stayed at Ely for four years and then took up an appointment at Chester for a year or two. Finally, he moved to London and became Master or the Choristers at Westminster Abbey in 1569. He died of the plague in 1574 leaving his wife and three children.
In the Use of Sarum Christe qui lux es et dies is the hymn at Compline from the first Sunday of Lent, and daily thereafter until Passion Sunday. (At other times of year the Compline hymn is one of six others including, famously, Te Lucis Ante Terminum). White would have been exposed to the Use of Sarum as a young man during the Marian revival of 1554—1559. He, or a patron, was evidently very taken with Christe qui lux since he left no fewer than four versions. All are alternatim settings, where the even numbered verses are set to polyphony leaving the odd numbered verses in their unaltered plainchant form.
Following the models established by Tallis and Sheppard a generation earlier, White keeps the chant as a cantus firmus in either the treble or tenor part and weaves his polyphony in the remaining four voice parts.
If not actually by St Ambrose, the text is certainly from that school, and dates from no later than the sixth century. The form is that of so many early hymns: a four line iambic tetrameter.
Christchurch Ms Mus. 984-988 no. 38.
All four of White’s settings of Christe qui lux survive in the Christchurch source as numbers 3, 4, 5 & 38.
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Notes on Performance
Although written for the Lady Mass, this setting of the Kyrie could be used in conjunction with English festal mass settings where a polyphonic Kyrie is preferred to a troped planchant Kyrie.