John Taverner

English Died 19 Oct 1545

Not to be confused with the 20th century composer, John Tavener, John Taverner  was the greatest English composer of the early 16th century. Known chiefly for his sacred choral music, Taverner had an important role in the founding of the choir of Cardinal College, Oxford (later renamed Christ Church).

Born in Lincolnshire around 1490, the earliest verifiable references to him occur in 1524 and 1525 when he was listed as a lay clerk of the choir of the collegiate church at Tattershall. In the autumn of 1525, however, he was invited to Oxford to be the first instructor of the choristers at Cardinal College, due to open the following year.

Taverner's career at Cardinal Wolsey's magnificent new foundation was brief. Wolsey fell out of favour with Henry VIII in 1529 and the college suffered as a result. Taverner made the decision to leave, apparently returning to his native Lincolnshire to become a lay clerk of the choir at the parish church of St Botolph, Boston. The choir at St Botolph was of almost cathedral proportions, but once again circumstances intervened to force Taverner on. The guild that funded the choir ran into financial difficulties, and by 1537 Taverner seems to have retired from full-time employment in church music.

Taverner continued to live in Boston with his wife, Rose, and her two daughters by a previous marriage. In these last years, he is referred to as a local dignitary, evidently of considerable wealth, with a number of powerful friends. He died on 18 October 1545 and was buried in Boston parish church.

Popular legend sees Taverner stop composing after leaving Cardinal College, becoming instead an agent for Thomas Cromwell, whom he did know, in the suppression of the monasteries. There is no evidence to support this, however.

Taverner's music, generally considered to bridge the gap between the Medieval and Renaissance periods, is some of the greatest of 16th century polyphony. He wrote 8 masses, including one based on a secular song The Western Wynde and was the first to use the instrumental form known as In nomine. In 1970 Peter Maxwell Davies wrote an opera, Taverner, based on his life.

Related composers: PalestrinaByrdTallis

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