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Choral Responses

Free editions of The Preces and Responses, available to download can be found below, or by clicking the links in the sidebar.


Choral Responses are that most functional of all choral works in the Anglican tradition, beginning with Tallis's setting of the Litany in the summer of 1544, only a month or so after the first liturgical text in the English language was published in May of that year. Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549, with John Merbecke's musical rendering in chant the following year. Tallis scored another first with his settings of the Preces and Responses after that, probably in the few years before the reign of Mary in 1553. Byrd and Morley are likely to have composed their settings after Elizabeth came to the throne, though they clearly drew on Tallis as a model. In the post-Creed Responses, all three composer feature Merbecke's congregational response in the Tenor part. However, almost no 16th-century material survives, so we have to rely on manuscripts copied between 1625 and 1640, many of which are either incomplete or error-filled.

Curiously, the surviving disparate sources lack the second of the two Contratenor parts in many of the settings. Editors must use their skill and judgment to recreate the missing part. As Watkins Shaw acknowledges, the solution is often 'an obvious possibility, whoever may attempt it'. There are only so many notes that will fit the harmony, and those are limited further by the combination of possible notes that precede and follow each one.

The Preces and the Responses are mistakenly thought of as one coherent composition; however, the source material tends to present the Preces, which initiate Morning and Evening Prayer, as one 'work', usually paired with Psalm settings by the same composer, in a similar homophonic style. There are a number of settings of the Preces without any 'matching' Responses, such as those by Orlando Gibbons. All the Preces by Byrd, Smith and others are frequently found with Psalm settings. The Responses, which follow the Creed later in the service, are found as an entirely separate composition.

Thomas Tallis’s setting(s) of the Preces and Responses are something of a poor relation to other sets by his contemporaries: excluded from the Church Music Society’s collected volume of Tudor settings; and found in a variety of editions, claiming to be “Festal”, “Ferial”, “Set 1”, “Set 2” or otherwise designated. A brief history of the music is necessary to further discussion.

The earliest source material of Tallis's music is found in four sets of partbooks: two in Peterhouse Cambridge (The Former and Latter Caroline Sets); one at the Royal College of Music (the Barnard set); and one in Christ Church, Oxford. Sadly, all of these collections lack at least one of the parts. None of them dates earlier than 1625. However, the Barnard, Christ Church and Former Caroline Set broadly agree. The Latter Caroline set contains entirely different music for the Preces (sung at the start of Matins and Evensong) from that found in the other sources. The “Responses” (sung after the Creed at Matins and Evensong) contain some differences and some similarities. And so it is that the music of the Former Caroline partbooks (and Barnard and Christ Church) became known as “Tallis’s First Set”, and that of the Latter Caroline partbooks as “Tallis’s Second Set”.
John Barnard then confused matters further in his book of Selected Church Musick of 1641, by using the Preces of the First Set with the Responses of the Second Set. Most editions ever since have used this pairing. Barnard went further still, by making alterations to the music itself. Boyce’s Cathedral Music of 1760 is clearly copied from Barnard’s book, with further ‘perfections’ made by the good doctor.


And so it is clear from the source material that Tallis wrote two settings of the Preces, one in C (“The First Set”) and one in F (“The Second Set”). Close inspection of the Responses of the Second Set reveals that it is not so much a different setting, but a reworking of existing material. The Bass part is all but identical, and the Medius (Treble) part is altered only in a few places. The Tenor has the cantus firmus in both, the plainsong melody on which the whole harmony is constructed. Only the two Alto parts are entirely re-written, and this is done quite poorly. The 2nd Alto frequently ducks and dives on a quaver in order to avoid parallel octaves with the Medius.
The conclusion is that Tallis wrote two settings of the Preces, but only one of the post-Creed Responses, and that this latter section has been continually revised and altered by musicians in the centuries that have come and gone. His “first” Preces have also been preferred as the more musically interesting.

The first book to contain a collection of settings by Byrd, Smith, Tallis and Tomkins was John Jebb's The Choral Responses and Litanies of the United Church of England and Ireland, in 2 volumes between 1847 and 1857. Ivor Atkins and Edmund Fellowes published these settings, plus Morley's, in 1933, which was followed by Watkins Shaw's ubiquitous edition in 1966.


The PDFs below do not have page numbers, so that users can select whichever settings they like, and combine the pages into booklets themselves in any order and with any other material, before adding page numbers. Other free editions (of varying quality) already exist of the Ayleward, Byrd, Smith, Tallis, Tomkins and Naylor.

Bespoke customized editions can be supplied on request.

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Richard Ayleward (1626 - 1669): Preces & Responses
Newly edited from King's College Cambridge, Rowe Library Mss 9-17.


John Barnard (b.1591 fl.1641): Preces & Responses
Reconstructed and edited from Royal College of Music Barnard partbooks.


William Byrd (c.1543 - 1623): Preces & Responses
Newly edited from the Peterhouse Cambridge Latter Caroline partbooks, with reconstructed 2nd Alto.


Henry Loosemoore (c.1607 - 1670): Preces & Responses
Adapted from Loosemore's setting of The Litany.
Copies available to purchase.


Thomas Morley (c.1557 - 1602): Preces & Responses
Newly edited from the Royal College of Music Barnard partbooks, with reconstructed 2nd Alto.


William Smith (1605 - 1645): Preces & Responses
Newly edited from the Durham Cathedral partbooks, with reconstructed 2nd Alto.


Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585): Preces & Responses
Newly edited from the Peterhouse Cambridge Former Caroline partbooks.


Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585): Litany
Newly edited from the Peterhouse Cambridge Latter Caroline partbooks and other sources. COMING SOON!


Thomas Tomkins (1572 - 1656): Preces & Responses
Newly edited from the Peterhouse Cambridge Latter Caroline partbooks, with reconstructed 2nd Alto.


E. W. Naylor (1867 - 1934): Final Responses


The Ancient Groove Book of Amens. COMING SOON!

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