Fight or Sight in Tallis's Third Mode
Date: February 17, 2016
When Archbishop Matthew Parker translated the psalter, Thomas Tallis contributed a set of eight tunes to set them to music, plus a ninth tune for good measure. Of the better known, the Third Mode Melody has been used in hymnals and as the theme for Vaughan Williams' string Fantasia. Ambiguities of sixteenth-century typesetting have for long left it undecided whether psalm 2 began 'Why fum'th in fight' or 'in sight'. Vaughan Williams, I think, went for 'fight'. His friend and biographer Michael Kennedy has 'fight' in the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Music.
I've been content to follow that tradition but 'sight' has its adherents too. ChoralNet had this discussion in 2013. 'In sight' is much more common English usage than 'in fight', even in verse. Their case is growing very much stronger as more contemporary documents come to light. The British Library has
a handwritten collection of treble parts to psalms, under the identifier Add MS 15166. Dr Julia Craig-McFeely of the Digital Archive of Mediaeval Music accessed it for me and confidently pronounced the key letter an 's'. I'm convinced and you can see for yourselves here:
The British Library intends to have the whole document online before long. I understand Chris Watson knows a manuscript even closer to the original that points conclusively the same way.
There are more aspects of Archbishop Parker's psalter that are worth a look. Psalm 2 is only one of the psalms suggested for the third mode. The whole 150 and the eight tunes are marked with pairing symbols but with apparently only three symbols to choose from (\,/,~) I would need a bit more help to match them up as originally intended. Then how does the ninth tune fit in?
My thanks to Dr Craig-McFeely and everyone working on digitizing manuscripts. They are a wonderful resource indeed.