The unique sound of a Tudor Lady Mass has been created for the chapel where Henry VIII would have heard it, almost 500 years ago.
The audio experience immerses the listener in the prayers, chants and ritual sounds of clergy and choristers. It has been produced for one of the most beautiful pre-Reformation private chapels in England – former Tudor ‘power house’, The Vyne in Hampshire, now owned by the National Trust.
Sounds of movement have also been captured, enhancing the audio illusion, from the subtle change in volume of the priest’s voice as he turns from the altar, to the clink of the thurible chain as incense is blessed, even the faint rustle of clothing.
This is the first time a ‘soundscape’ of the Lady Mass – in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary - has been created as Henry VIII would have known it, featuring 16th-century composer Nicholas Ludford’s elaborate polyphonic music for boys’ voices.
The installation is part of a wider project to shine a spotlight on previously untold but powerful stories at The Vyne, such as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s visit there in October 1535.
This major period in the house’s history is also reflected visually. An ornate altar frontal featuring Christ and four saints dresses the altar. Copied from a rare hanging of the same period at the National Trust’s Cotehele in Cornwall, it includes handstitched detail by an historic prop maker and several volunteers.
The opportunity to present The Vyne’s past in an exciting new light comes at a time when the conservation charity is undertaking a £5.4 million project to repair the mansion’s leaking roof and crumbling chimneys. Much of the roof’s structure is 500 years old.
General Manager Stuart Maughan explains: “Whilst our first floor is currently closed to protect it from the intensive building works, we wanted to give our visitors something really different to experience; something that would reveal The Vyne’s past in a more inclusive and thought-provoking way.
“We have worked with leading academic experts in medieval liturgy, music, and early modern history from the Universities of Oxford, Southampton and Bangor, along with our own curators, to research this momentous period in The Vyne’s history and bring it to life.”
Professor Harper, medieval liturgy expert from Bangor University explains: “Henry VIII probably came to The Vyne with 12 ‘Gentlemen’ and ‘Children’ from his own Chapel Royal, who would have been responsible for the ritual and music of the Mass. This was a Mass for the household, and the king himself would have looked down from the Lord’s Closet, which you can still see today.
“What people will hear in The Vyne’s chapel makes use of the texts and chants that Henry VIII would have been familiar with all his life. But this was a time of religious change, and 25 years later, Mass of this kind had been entirely swept away in England.”
To heighten the sense of reality sound designer Peter Key recorded the clergy, men’s and boys’ voices and the organ in relative isolation. This allowed him to play each part through loudspeakers around the chapel, in positions that matched the original performance.
Three different recording locations were chosen whose acoustics matched The Vyne’s intimate chapel space. The music was recorded on a recreation of a Tudor organ in a Worcester church, the men’s plainsong and clergy parts in an Oxford chapel, and the Ludford polyphony – sung by Trinity Boys Choir - in a small Surrey church.
Doctor Lucy Kaufman, a historian from Keble College Oxford, has advised on the project. She says: “The story we’re telling is so important in terms of understanding how Britain came to be the country it is today.
“Henry VIII’s 1535 Progress was an opportunity to cement what we’d now call a ‘Protestant’ loyalty amongst his most powerful and wealthy subjects, including William Sandys – owner of The Vyne and Henry’s Lord Chamberlain. It was also a chance to be seen with his controversial queen, Anne Boleyn.”
In other spaces at The Vyne, animated projections of medieval tapestries reveal images of courtly life, hawking and hunting, conveying the pastimes of the Tudor Court, accompanied by music from Anne Boleyn’s original surviving songbook. Illustrations and text panels explore the political reasons behind Henry’s visit, and the pomp and ceremony that accompanied it.
Elsewhere in the mansion, furnishings, props and audio reflect the life and belongings of William Wiggett Chute and his family. This unusual Victorian gentleman succeeded to The Vyne in 1842. His extraordinary determination to save the neglected mansion secured its future, but the huge cost left his family unable to entertain or socialise.
Wiggett Chute faced many of the conservation challenges the National Trust is dealing with at The Vyne today.
The Tudor Mass audio experience will run throughout the year. To find out more about The Vyne visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-vyne.