A Tudor Mass sung in Hampshire

[An article in The Portal by Eliza Trebelcock. The Ludford setting referred to is described here and in other places only as a Lady Mass written for boys’ voices.  I was unable to find Mass settings by Ludford for boys’ voices only.  Click here, however, for a performance of Ludford’s Missa Videte Miraculum for 6 Voices.  You can see a brief clip on the Vyne’s project here.]

It was a lovely day, and the place was full of primary school children, their parents and grandparents. The youngsters were well behaved and clearly enjoying themselves. The Vyne is a Tudor house, not far from Basingstoke, in Hampshire. Now in the hands of the National Trust, in the 16th century it was owned by William Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. Originally built in the 1520s.

The Vyne was once a great Tudor ‘powerhouse’, comparable in size and grandeur to the Base Court of Hampton Court Palace. It later became a family home, cherished by the Chute family for more than 350 years. I was met and shown around by the house and collections manager Helen Sanderson. The Portal had been invited to a visit for two reasons. Firstly because the upper floors are being restored, but instead of closing the house for two years or more, access to the works is allowed to the public via a specially constructed walkway and a lift.

The opportunity to present The Vyne’s past in an exciting new light comes at a time when the conservation charity is undertaking a £5.4 million project to repair the mansion’s leaking roof and crumbling chimneys. Much of the roof’s structure is 500 years old.

Being on the top of the Palace is a wonderful experience, even if you are not happy with heights. The Tudor roof is in urgent need of repair as is the Victorian build and restoration. All is quite safe, and even “Health and Safety” are happy. To see the rafters and their Tudor and Victorian construction is just beautiful. One can also see how previous generations re-used wood from an old staircase in the roof.

The second reason for my invitation was that during October 1535, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn visited The Vyne on their Progress through the country. We are told that they were “merry” at The Vyne. But within six months, Anne would be executed for adultery, probably unjustly.

Whilst at The Vyne, Henry attended at least one Mass of Our Lady and in all probability, more than just one. In the chapel, this is re-created in sound.

Entering the chapel one hears the unique sound of a Tudor Lady Mass. Henry VIII would have heard this mass some 500 years ago. The experience immerses the listener in the prayers, chants and ritual sounds of clergy and choristers. It has been produced for one of the most beautiful pre-Reformation private chapels in England.

One also hears the movement of priest and people. You can also hear the subtle change in volume of the priest’s voice as he turns from the altar, to the clink of the thurible chain as incense is blessed, even the faint rustle of clothing, and the standing and kneeling of the congregation.

This is the first time a ‘soundscape’ of the Lady Mass – in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary – has been created as Henry VIII would have known it, featuring 16th-century composer Nicholas Ludford’s elaborate polyphonic music for boys’ voices. It is stunningly beautiful.

General Manager, Stuart Maughan, explains: “Whilst our first floor is currently closed to protect it from the intensive building works, we wanted to give our visitors something really different to experience; something that would reveal The Vyne’s past in a more inclusive and thought-provoking way.”

We have worked with leading academic experts in medieval liturgy, music, and early modern history from the Universities of Oxford, Southampton and Bangor, along with our own curators, to research this momentous period in The Vyne’s history and bring it to life.”

Professor Harper, medieval liturgy expert from Bangor University, explains: “Henry VIII probably came to The Vyne with 12 ‘Gentlemen’ and ‘Children’ from his own Chapel Royal, who would have been responsible for the ritual and music of the Mass. This was a Mass for the household, and the King himself would have looked down from the Lord’s Closet, which you can still see today.

“What people will hear in The Vyne’s chapel makes use of the texts and chants that Henry VIII would have been familiar with all his life. But this was a time of religious change, and 25 years later, Mass of this kind had been entirely swept away in England.”

To heighten the sense of reality, sound designer Peter Key recorded the clergy, men’s and boys’ voices and the organ in relative isolation. This allowed him to play each part through loudspeakers around the chapel, in positions that matched the original performance.

Three different recording locations were chosen whose acoustics matched The Vyne’s intimate chapel space. The music was recorded on a recreation of a Tudor organ in a Worcester church, the men’s plainsong and clergy parts in an Oxford chapel, and the Ludford polyphony – sung by Trinity Boys Choir – in a small Surrey church.

The early 16th-century Chapel is one of the last surviving pre-Reformation chapels in Britain. The chapel contains stained glass described as being amongst the most beautiful in Europe and famous for its jewel-like clarity. The three windows above the Altar have recently been restored and preserved. Being in the chapel where Henry heard mass listening to the music he heard, and hearing the actual words of the mass that he heard is a powerful experience.

The Tudor Mass audio experience will run throughout the year. To find out more about The Vyne visit the website by clicking here.

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