The Second 'Excellent' Service for Means (Robert Parsons)

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The Second 'Excellent' Service of Five Parts for Means

If the First Service shows a youthful Parsons, full of exuberant high spirits, this movement from his later (Elizabethan?) service seems to show a more mature composer at the height of his powers. The Te Deum has a very strong affinity to the standalone setting by Thomas Tallis, reconstructed by Leonard “Doc” Ellinwood (EECM vol. VIII). Tallis’s Te Deum clearly served as an important model for Parsons’s Service; it may itself have been a part of a complete service, now lost.

The Te Deum shows what a titanic work Parsons’s Second Service is — a work without which Byrd’s Great Service would be unthinkable. The scribe of one manuscript gives an indication of how this piece was viewed by Parsons’s contemporaries: he heads it “Mr. Parsons: His Excellent Service.”

Until now, it was thought that this music was too poorly preserved to be performed. Careful study revealed that piecing together widely scattered sources, including an indispensable organ reduction, would yield almost all of the music of the Service. I owe a great debt to Ralph Buxton, who has dedicated considerable enterprise and energy to this music, including turning up a reference to York Minster Music Ms. 13/4 (the Tenor Decani book), which has been enormously useful to the editions both of the "Excellent" Service and the First Service.

The Venite survives in a worse state than the rest of the Service, (many of the sources omit it). Nonetheless, Ralph Buxton has made an admirable reconstruction of it. One can easily see the condition of the extant music in his version by looking at only the organ part and the unbracketed voice parts.

Finally, still rests incomplete the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis “in medio chori”, which survives only in the “Batten” organbook, Tenbury 791, though misidentified in the table of contents.

(Notes by George Steel)

General Information

Title: The Second 'Excellent' Service of Five Parts for Means
Composer: Robert Parsons

Genre: SacredAnthem

Language: English
Instruments: A cappella

List of works

Morning Prayer


  • Magnificat (unavailable, incomplete sources)
  • Nunc dimittis (unavailable, incomplete sources)


External links