Carver was Scotland’s great Renaissance composer, a polyphonic master of the
stature of Dufay or Josquin. The vast bulk of Scottish Latin Church Music was
physically destroyed during the Reformation; the principal survivor is the
Scone Antiphonary, generally known as the Carver Choirbook, and if we had
other, similar sources he might not appear such an isolated genius.
Carver’s unquestioned works (all from the Carver Choirbook), are:
Masses: Dum Sacrum Mysterium (10-part); 6-part Mass; 4-part Mass ‘L’homme
armé'; 5-Part Mass ‘Fera Pessima’; 4-Part Mass ‘Pater Creator Omnium’.
Motets: O bone Jesu (16 parts); Gaude flore virginale (5 parts).
Probable works: acephalous 3-part Mass (in Carver Choirbook); 6-part Mass
‘Cantate Domino’(survives in an independent source - is anonymous but ascribed
to Carver on stylistic grounds and also because it partly recomposes music from
the ‘Fera Pessima’ Mass).
Most of Carver’s work is in the extremely florid late-Renaissance polyphonic
style, combining English and Flemish decorative elements but probably growing
out of a largely lost established tradition of sophisticated Scottish
polyphony. However the Mass ‘Pater Creator Omnium’ is in the austere
note-for-note ‘faburden’ style favoured by the Reformers.
Virtually nothing is known for certain about Carver’s life except that he was a
Canon of the Abbey of Scone, and must have enjoyed royal patronage. He may (or
may not) be identical with a Robert Carver or Carwor, alias Arnat, who was
associated with the Chapel Royal in Sirling. The 10-part Mass ‘Dum Sacrum
Mysterium’ may have been composed for, and at any rate was probably sung at,
the Coronation of King James V of Scotland. All his authenticated music, and
also some anonymous pieces which may be his, are preserved in the so-called Carver Choirbook now in the National Library of
Scotland, several of them undoubtedly in his own hand and some precisely
(though obscurely) dated. He has always been of scholarly interest as the only
British composer to write a mass based on the tune ‘L’homme armé' (a common
cantus-firmus source of masses on the continent), but only in recent decades
has his music begun to be performed and recorded. There are nevertheless
several competing editions of some works.