Building the Soundscape of a Medieval Mass

Late medieval sacred music is often performed and studied in Oxford, but rarely is it heard within the context of its original performance – the pre-Reformation liturgy as it was celebrated in churches, chapels, and cathedrals. Recently, Dr Matthew Cheung Salisbury (Lecturer at University and Worcester Colleges) has been working with other specialists in this area and with Oxford singers to create a historically informed soundscape of a medieval Mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the chapel of The Vyne, a National Trust property located near Basingstoke.

As part of the extensive renovation of the property, the National Trust has provided a home for a sound installation which will immerse visitors in the sounds of the medieval liturgy, including the chants, readings, prayers, and other sounds, most of which were recorded in the Chapel of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in November. Joining Dr Salisbury were members of Worcester College Choir, together with liturgical scholar Professor John Harper and the former Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral, the Revd Jeremy Davies.

The chants of the ‘Lady Mass’, which would have been heard by King Henry VIII at The Vyne during his Royal Progress of 1535, are the subject of a new musical edition by Dr Salisbury, Professor Harper, and Dr Sally Harper, which will be published as the first chant volume in the series Early English Church Music by the British Academy later this year.

Dr Salisbury, who is also the national liturgical adviser to the present-day Church of England, said:

‘Following several years in which we have been preparing this edition, it has been wonderful to have the music recorded and our understanding of its ritual context challenged by the need to produce this exciting soundscape. We have learnt a lot by thinking about the way that singers must have learned and prepared the chants for performance, partly through aural tradition and partly as a result of singing together, which many of the singers involved do already, working as a team.’

More about The Vyne and the project, including a video, can be found here.