William Byrd (1543 - 1623)
BACKGROUND AND HISTORICAL PERSPSECTIVE
By: Jason R. Ogan
The greatest English composer of his generation, comparable in stature to his most distinguished continental contemporaries, William Byrd was a versatile composer. Although remaining a Catholic, loyalty that cost him considerable trouble in times of persecution in England, he served as a member of the Chapel Royal, providing music for the liturgy of the Church of England and, on a more private scale, for his fellow-Catholics.
Biographical Information on William Byrd
Byrd's compositions for the church can be separated into two categories; those for the Catholic liturgy and those designed for the officially recognised Church of England. The first category includes settings of the Mass for three, four and five voices, and a large quantity of other works for the various seasons of the church year.
For the Church of England Byrd wrote a Great Service and three other service settings, using the texts of the Anglican liturgy.
In addition to the above compositions Byrd composed a number of anthems and psalm-settings, and consort songs with sacred texts of one sort or another.
Byrd also wrote a number of secular consort songs. These are songs with accompaniment entrusted to varying numbers of instruments.
Not unlike the popular music of the time, Byrd provided music for various groups of instruments. These were usually works for Viols. Bowed and fretted string instruments were held in high social esteem. Byrd's consort music includes a number of In nomines, a curious English form of music based on fragment taken from a setting of the Benedictus by the 16th century composer Taverner. Byrd also composed a series of Fantasias and a great deal of contrapuntal instrumental music.
Byrd was well known as a keyboard-player. He wrote a wealth of music for the virginals, Fantasias, Pavans and Galliards, the fashionable paired dances of the time, and several song variations. The Earl of Salisbury Pavan and Galliard is a familiar recital piece as are the Variations on Sellinger's Round and The Carman's Whistle.
ADDITIONAL BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION ON THIS IMPORTANT COMPOSER
Most likely born in Lincolnshire in 1543, Byrd was the foremost English composer of his time. As a student of Thomas Tallis he was exposed to music of the Chapel Royal and the best of the English tradition. In 1563 he was appointed organist of Lincoln Cathedral, and by 1572 joined the Chapel Royal where he shared organist duties with Tallis. The relationship between Tallis and Byrd was personal as well as professional and in 1575 they jointly published Cantiones Sacrae. In this publication are 34 motets dedicated to Elizabeth I. Although Byrd was a Catholic in Protestant England, he had no problems with his superiors. Many of his patrons, such as the Earl of Worcester, were Catholics as well, and when England momentarily returned to Roman Church he had no shortage of music to accompany the revival; he had been composing music for underground catholic circles for years. He composed for every branch of music; Consort, Sacred, Keyboard music. He left no instrument without a piece of his music. Byrd's last publication was Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets and was published in 1611. He died in 1623. Byrd's music would go on to affect and shape much of later English music. He music shows the impressions of the Italian, Palestrina, and the Spainish school, Vittoria.
Example of the music of William Byrd. "Sing Joyfully" is one of the most widely known
and performed works by William Byrd.
To hear an excerpt from Williams Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" click here.
Other interesting links:
The William Byrd Competition
Cantores in Ecclesia
This page was designed and edited my Jason R. Ogan