It’s the era defined by three of England’s most dramatic monarchs – Henry VIII, “Bloody” Mary I and Elizabeth I. It’s the era that saw the creation of a rival to the Catholic Church – the Church of England – the beheadings of queens and rivers of bloodshed in the name of religion and loyalty to the crown.
And amid all that, it’s the era during which England gave the world some of its most glorious music.
“I think arguably Tudor England is one of the most fascinating – and maybe even more generally speaking, the English monarchy – is one of the more fascinating aspects of European culture and politics and history for Americans,” said Jordán Šrámek, founder and artistic director of the world-renowned Rose Ensemble, in a recent phone interview.
The political intrigue, rich history and great music of Tudor England come to Columbus when The Rose Ensemble performs Twelfth Night: A Tudor Christmas at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5 in St. Joseph Cathedral on the Early Music in Columbus series.
The concert marks one of a number of repeat performances The Rose Ensemble has given in Columbus and is part of the group’s final tour.
“This is one of many appearances we’ve made in Columbus over the years, and it is something that we do not take for granted,” Šrámek said. “We are really honored to be featured on this really wonderful series. When the series organizers have so many choices, to be asked to come back again is a huge honor. And we are humbled by the opportunity, and we really look forward to performing for the community again.”
Twelve Days Of Celebration
During the Tudor period (1485 to 1603), as today, the annual festival of Twelfth Night served as an ongoing celebration marking the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany. But unlike today, Twelfth Night was celebrated with days’ worth of often lavish festivities during the Tudor period.
“When we talk about the Twelve Days of Christmas, those are the days after Christmas,” Šrámek said. “So when we think about that wonderful carol about my true love giving to me all of her various things, it’s a whole series of celebrations across 12 days.”
Twelfth Night: A Tudor Christmas will feature spirited secular and liturgical musical works from one of England’s richest and most colorful eras.
Highlights of the program include works by two of Tudor England’s most important composers of church music – Thomas Tallis and William Byrd – both of whom rode the tides of religious change as England’s monarchs swung between embracing Catholicism and Protestantism.
“William Byrd was one that had to really, really kind of watch his back when it came to his position serving the queen (Elizabeth I), but also himself and his personal life, being a Catholic,” Šrámek said. “He was serving what was then the clandestine Catholic Church. And so I find his music to be especially intriguing.”
The concert will also showcase music by Philip van Wilder, a composer whose music, Šrámek says, deserves to be better known than it is. Wilder served in the privy chamber of Henry VIII and later as Keeper of the Instruments, a post that would eventually come to be called Master of the King’s Music.
“We’re talking about Henry VIII, a title Master of the King’s Musick, and Philip van Wilder is a name that few people know,” Šrámek said. “I find that really interesting. And what’s more, his music is great.”
A Gloria setting by Robert Carver will bring the Scottish dimension of the Tudor era into the picture.
“When we think of Tudors, I think oftentimes we kind of segregate our thoughts, if I can put it that way, to England exclusively,” Šrámek said. “But we must remember that Henry VIII had a sister named Margaret, and Margaret married into the Scottish royalty.
“She married James IV of Scotland and then became Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots,” Šrámek continued. “She served from 1503 to 1513, and during that time and up to the end of her reign, Scottish music at Scone Abbey just thrived. And undoubtedly the Scottish Renaissance’s best-known composer, Robert Carver, was an absolute master.”
Just for fun, the ensemble will perform carols from the 1400s that, Šrámek says, are lively and fully in the festive spirit of Twelfth Night.
“They’re catchy, they’re rhythmic – we’ve got a drum and a string instrument to accompany them – they’re actually quite clever in the poetry,” Šrámek said, “and I think they provide a nice contrast, especially in a more kind of secular feel, to the broader, more cathedral-like liturgical pieces on the program.”
The End of An Era
Even as The Rose Ensemble’s Twelfth Night: A Tudor Christmas celebrates one of the most notorious eras in British history, the ensemble itself is this season bringing its own era to a close.
A May 2018 media release announced that, because of financial difficulties, the 2018-19 performance season would be The Rose Ensemble’s last.
“The finances were such that, at the time, my board of directors decided that it was the best decision for us to dissolve the organization,” Šrámek said. “I am grateful that I have an opportunity to continue to create art and to produce a final season, which I believe – whether I’m speaking about our local community or our national or international community – it’s something that our organization really owes to our audience.
Said Šrámek, “And I think that having a final and even, dare I say, fairly involved, ambitious season, is the dignified way to close one’s doors.”
The Rose Ensemble performs Twelfth Night: A Tudor Christmas at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5 in St. Joseph Cathedral on the Early Music in Columbus series.