Christopher Tye


Tye was a master of the continental contrapuntal techniques of the 1530s, though his talent fell short of his contemporary, Tallis. Best known for his 'Western Wind' Mass, Tye also composed anthems and many In Nomine settings for Viol consort. Unfortunately, many of the original manuscript sources to Tye's music have been lost, and consequently, it is difficult to properly assess his contribution to Renaissance music.

The first mentions of Tye occur in the mid 1530s when he took the BMus degree at Cambridge and became a lay clerk at King's College. The supporting documentation detailing his experience suggests he was born around 1505, probably somewhere in the Eastern counties of England. He his next known to have been appointed as Magister choristarum at Ely Cathedral, perhaps as early as 1541, possibly following his friend Dr Richard Cox, who had been made archdeacon.

In 1547 Cox became chancellor of Oxford University, and Tye's Oxford connections begin around this time too. Cox was also tutor to the young Prince (later King) Edward and introduced Tye to the court as a result. Tye and Edward seem to have become good friends and Tye dedicated his metrical version of The Actes of the Apostles to the young King. During the 1550s it is probable that Tye served at the Chapel Royal in some capacity, though whether he retained his Ely position throughout this period is unclear; by May 1559, at any rate, he was definitely in their employ, Cox having become bishop there in 1558.

Shortly after his return to Ely, Tye decided to take holy orders, ensuring him a comfortable retirement. In 1561 he resigned his position to Robert White (possibly his son-in-law) and was appointed as priest to Doddington-cum-Marche, gaining two further appointments nearby in 1564. It seems Tye was not a diligent priest and he resigned the two extra positions in 1567 and 1570; he probably maintained the Doddington position until his death, sometime before 15 March 1573.

While Tye wrote Latin church music before 1547 and during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-8), his music to English texts seems to have been written during the reign of Edward VI. This includes the fine masses 'Euge bone' and 'Western Wind' (a set of variations on a popular tune that also inspired Sheppard and Taverner), and some fine anthems, including the six-voice Christ rising. Tye's extensive consort music suggests he was an enthusiastic viol player in court, and he wrote many 5-part In Nomine settings as a result.

Related composers: SheppardTallisTaverner

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