William Byrd Essay

Submitted By cheyfersure
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Cheyanna Thompson
Historical Survey I
October 9th, 2013
Gary Hall
William Byrd William Byrd was born in London, England, although the year is not entirely known, either in 1539 or 1540. In his younger years, he and his brother were both choristers in St. Paul’s Chapel showing that he had an early start in music. He moved away from London three times because he liked a solitude and quiet life. He was also very devout Roman Catholic whose loyalty to the government was never once questioned. He is very well known for several things in the musical culture of England and developed a great amount of pieces. Some of which were published along with his mentor’s, Thomas Tallis. He worked originally as the organist for the Lincoln Cathedral in the year 1563, he later moved back to London to become an organist alongside his mentor at the Chapel Royal in 1572. In 1577, Byrd moved once again to Harlington, Middlesex which was most likely for the privacy from London. Then for a final time he moved to Stondon Massey, Essex in 1593 then later died in 1623. (Noble) Byrd was a great composer and musician himself though he had help in his early years from Thomas Tallis, who I mentioned earlier. The queen, Elizabeth I, had granted them together, permission to import, print and publish music. After this they composed a book of motets dedicated to the queen called Cantiones sacrae, which had a total of 34 motets in it, 18 of which were written by Byrd and the other 16 by Tallis. Tallis contributed a lot of sacred music during Elizabeth the first’s reign and most of which was very elaborate. They all had at least four voice parts, occasionally five or six. This shows how Tallis highly influenced Byrd, because he also wrote several pieces with five voice parts. When Tallis had died in 1585, it very well could have inspired Byrd, within three years, he had published four more collections. They were Psalmes, Sonets, & Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, Songs of Sundrie Natures, then two more Cantiones Sacrae. (Noble) During Byrd’s lifetime, as stated before Elizabeth I was in power, he had quickly become her favorite composer as well (Alchin). He also lived through the Shakespearean time; therefore there was a lot of great poetry use. He was of the Catholic faith which could have gotten him in trouble during the Elizabethan state, considering that the queen had really been cracking down on people who had not regularly been going to church, his house was watched and he and his wife at one point were cited for not attending church regularly, although the queen did protect him. He continued to write privately for Catholic devotions (Stewart). Also during Elizabeth’s reign the Spanish Armada occurred, which was Spain’s attempt to overthrow her (Trueman). For this the queen had Byrd specifically write a song about England’s victory. Byrd was definitely Elizabeth’s go to man when she needed something written for the church or for her own purposes. William Byrd mostly did compositions for the Catholic church and he used a lot of complex writing with several different voice parts. In his composition Angus Dei Mass for Five Voices, he uses some of the same techniques that were used in the Cantiones sacrae. The text of this song translates to “Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, who took away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” It is a very moving and powerful piece that is excellent for a church. Though, many composers use this exact same text for their own pieces, they all have a completely different sound to them. In this one in particular, there is really not any dissonance, it gives much more of an angelic sound that is quite beautiful. Byrd did not only write for the church, or for only choirs, but as well for viols and keyboard. The song Fair Britain Isle is written for four viol parts, also called a viol consort, and one voice, and is also in English. It is also a song of not much dissonance