Listen at Easter: John Taverner, “Dum transisset Sabbatum”

Easter Morning, by Caspar David Friedrich (painted c. 1828-1835), Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

My first post of Easter music included a crowd of happy people making a joyful noise, and the second was a folk song. Today’s music is much more etherial.

John Taverner (c. 1490-1545) was an English composer, regarded now as one of the most important of his era. Dum transisset Sabbatum is probably his best-known work.

There’s plenty I don’t know about Catholic church music. For instance, knowing that the text of this piece is the third responsory at Mattins on Easter Sunday doesn’t leave me very enlightened. A little research tells me that a responsory is a form of Gregorian chant associated with certain lessons. And once I understand that the Latin text comes from Mark 16:1-2, I’m making progress.

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

British choral conductor Suzi Digby has said this about Dum transisset Sabbatum: “Compositionally, this piece is so skillfully wrought that it manages to evoke the feeling of dawn, the echoes of the crucifixion and sunrise beyond the tomb. The crowning Alleluia is the embodiment of joy and hope.”

Here is a performance by the Tallis Scholars, with artwork to inspire as you listen.


In common with William Billings, John Taverner has a tie to Boston, though his is the Old rather than the New England one. Taverner was buried in St. Botolph’s Church, Boston, in Lincolnshire, England, about 100 miles north of London.



[Image: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Tiger at]

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