John Taverner – who was he?
The group takes its name from one of England’s finest and most influential composers, John Taverner (c.1490-1545).
Born in Lincolnshire, Taverner was serving as choirmaster in a local church when he was brought to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey, who appointed him the first instructor of the choristers at the newly founded Cardinal (later Christ Church) College, Oxford. During his tenure there (1526-30), Taverner not only created a magnificent choir but also produced most of his surviving work. Ranging from grand festal masses (such as The Western Wind and Gloria Tibi Trinitas), antiphons and motets to convivial secular songs, his output is characterised by swirling counterpoint with powerful harmonic underpinning.
Following a brief imprisonment in 1528 on suspicion of heresy and his subsequent pardon from Cardinal Wolsey (on the grounds that he was ‘but a musitian’), Taverner returned to Lincolnshire where he took up a post at St Botolph’s Church, Boston. While it is true that no works survive from this later period, there seem to be few grounds for the popular assertion that he abandoned composition to become one of Thomas Cromwell’s chief agents in the area for the suppression of the monasteries under Henry VIII.