John Sheppard (composer)
John Sheppard (also Shepherd, c. 1515 – December [perhaps around the 20th] 1558) was an English singer and composer.
In 1554 he supplicated, apparently unsuccessfully, for the degree of Doctor of Music at Oxford University, stating that he had studied music for 20 years and had "composed many songs". If his study period began in 1534 it is probable that he was born in the second decade of the sixteenth century. At Michaelmas 1543 he was appointed Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he remained until 1548. By 1552 he was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, a post which he may have assumed directly after his departure from Magdalen. On New Year's Day 1556 he presented a roll of songs to Mary Tudor. Research by David Chadd has revealed that his will was made on 1 December 1558 and that he was buried on 21 December, though he was awarded liveries for the funeral of Queen Mary on 13 December and even for the coronation of Elizabeth I on 15 January 1559, evidently in ignorance of his death. His son Nathan Sheppard worked for the Petre family at Ingatestone Hall and was eventually ordained priest.
Sheppard was one of the finest English church composers of the Tudor era, his achievements matched in his generation only by Thomas Tallis. The two most extensive sources of his music are the so-called Gyffard partbooks (GB-Lbm 17802-5), a set of four manuscript part-books probably copied during the 1570s for Dr Roger Gyffard (research by David Mateer) and GB-Och 979-83, five surviving part-books from a set of six copied after 1575 by the Windsor singingman John Baldwin. Much of the Gyffard music may have been composed during Sheppard’s Oxford years (the compiler had formerly been a Fellow of Merton College Oxford); but the music from the Christ Church part-books probably formed part of the repertory of the Chapel Royal choir during the 1550s, when Sheppard, Tallis and William Mundy were the three principal composing members of the choir. Sheppard was evidently a key figure in Mary Tudor’s programme to supply the Chapel with elaborate polyphony for the Sarum Rite, which was restored by the Catholic monarch on her accession in 1553. The greater part of Sheppard’s music was composed for it.
Of Sheppard’s five surviving Mass ordinary cycles, the Missa Cantate (a6) is a full-length, sumptuous festal setting in the tradition of John Taverner, constructed in units of six-part polyphony alternating with a mosaic of semi-choir sections. The principal unifying device, apart from the head-motive passages at the beginning of each movement, is the eight-note figure F-E-F-G-A-Bb-G-F, which occurs in the tenor at various points. Of the four four-part Mass cycles, The Western Wind is based on a derived popular melody which also formed the basis of Mass cycles by John Taverner and Christopher Tye. In Sheppard’s setting the melody migrates between the treble and the tenor. Two other cycles, Be not afraid and The Frences Mass, are both elaborately contrapuntal and freely constructed, the first being scored for men’s voices. The Plainsong Mass for a Mean is a much simpler work. Written in the simplified notation known as ‘strene’ it follows in the tradition of a setting in similar style by Taverner. It includes a Kyrie (unlike most Sarum Mass cycles) and uses alternatim technique, with alternating sections in chant and polyphony.
Sheppard wrote a large body of polyphony for the Sarum Office. There are 21 responsories, elaborate liturgical units normally sung at Matins in which progressively shortened repetitions of the responsory itself alternate with verses and a doxology. Sheppard often set the responsory to five or six-part polyphony with the chant sung as a cantus firmus in the tenor (less commonly in the treble or mean) and leaving the incipit, verses and doxology to be chanted. A good example of this technique is Sheppard’s six-part setting of Verbum caro factum est (the ninth responsory at Matins on Christmas Day). In a few settings of ferial responsaries for Advent and Lent he employs the reverse procedure, providing polyphony for the incipit, the verses and the doxology but leaving the responsory itself to be sung to plainsong (In manus tuas a4). One of the most grandiose of Sheppard’s responsories is Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria (a6), a magnificent setting of the responsory and interpolated prosa for Second Vespers for the Feast of the Purification.
Like Tallis, Sheppard also composed alternatim hymns, with the even-numbered verses sung to polyphony with chant cantus firmus and the odd-numbered verses left to be chanted. Usually the cantus firmus is in the treble. There are also a number of additional items for particularly solemn feasts of the Church calendar, including settings of the Gradual at Mass for Easter Day (Haec dies a6), and of the Kyrie as sung at Second Vespers. An alternatim setting of the processional psalm In exitu Israel, composed for the Paschal Vigil, was set jointly by Sheppard, William Mundy and the young William Byrd.
Sheppard’s music for the new Protestant rite, which has suffered seriously from the loss of manuscript sources, was presumably composed during the reign of Edward VI which saw the publication of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and thus created a need for liturgical music for English texts. Four services (settings of canticles and other items for the new English Matins, Evensong and Communion services) have all survived in incomplete form, the Second Service being of interest in that it influenced the design of Byrd’s Great Service (research by Richard Turbet). Sheppard’s fifteen English anthems, most of which are a4, comply with the demands of the Protestant reformers for simplicity, clear, audible words and largely syllabic text-underlay. His five-part English setting of the Lord’s Prayer nevertheless overcomes these limitations and achieves a degree of musical elaboration. The part-songs O happy dames and Vain, vain, all our life we spend in vain (both a4) are Sheppard’s only known secular works.
- Modern Edition: Early English Church Music Stainer and Bell, Vols 17 (ed. David Chadd) and 18 (ed. Nicholas Sandon)
His composition 'Media Vita' was used as part of the soundtrack of the Civilization 4 strategy game.
- Ceremony & Devotion- Harry Christophers, The Sixteen. (CORO)
- Media Vita; Music for Compline, Stile Antico.
- Free scores by John Sheppard in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free scores by John Sheppard at the International Music Score Library Project