The Ensemble Scandicus made this première recording of Ludford’s Missa dominica with the aim of sharing the beauties of one of the finest early sixteenth-century English works. We sincerely hope that it will bring much enjoyment to all who hear it!
A Lady Mass for a King, Nicholas Ludford
In his Cosmographie universelle de tout le monde of 1575, the humanist author and poet François de Belleforest presented the royal city of London in the following terms: ‘Ceste cy est la royale Cité de Londres, Capitalle de tout le royaume d’Angleterre, assise sur la rivière de Thamise, […] bien peuplée de maisons, ornée de Temples, magnifiques en Palais, illustrée pour les bons espritz y nourriz. Et les hommes douéz de toutes sciences, & disciplines […].’ This description accompanies a bird’s-eye view of the city and its environs, probably dating from the mid-sixteenth century.[i] London was already the largest city in Europe at that time, but it was of course much smaller then than it is now. Westminster, to the west, consisted of a few houses clustered around the royal palace. In the centre, the old city, its walls clearly visible from Blackfriars (Blakfreres) to the Tower of London (‘the Towre’), shows a dense network of houses, shops and parish churches, and there is only one bridge. We have to imagine, to the southwest, Henry VIII’s favourite residence, Greenwich Palace, around which the musicians of the Chapel Royal had taken up their quarters, and, twenty miles to the west, Windsor Castle. These various political and religious establishments were also important in Renaissance England as musical centres.
In the early sixteenth century the institutions directly connected with the crown appear to have developed, throughout England, a musical art that was unequalled. The finest musicians in the land entered the king’s service: the names of David Burton, William Cornysh, William Crane, William Newark, Richard Pygot, Robert Fayrfax, Thomas Farthing and Robert Jones all feature in the account books of the Chapel Royal. Under Henry VIII, the Royal Household Chapel comprised thirty adult singers and a dozen boy choristers selected for their vocal abilities. Thus, the Palace of Westminster, with the king’s private chapel, the Royal Chapel of St Stephen, the parish church of St Margaret and the Lady Chapel of the Benedictine Abbey, was musically outstanding. Due to their proximity to the royal residence, the structures we have just mentioned benefited from the polyphonic musical innovations developed by the singers and composers of the Chapel Royal. From time to time, for important ceremonies such as those for Christmas, Easter and the Feast of the Ascension, the choirs of the different chapels would join forces at St Margaret’s.