THIS YEAR marks four centuries since the death of William Byrd, a remarkable composer by any metric. If you spend lots of time with old music, you start to fancy that you know these people, that you are actually as intimately acquainted with them as with many of the friends and colleagues that populate your daily life. Certainly, I’ve spent a lot of time with the works of the mercurial Mr. Byrd, and my esteem for him knows no bounds.
We have already marked this anniversary a fair amount on this blog. There was a post by Dr. Tappan on the day itself, and Dr. Calabrese also recently wrote very movingly of the work we did on the Byrd Mass for Five Voices at this year’s symposium. This fall, I’m involved in a number of Byrd-centric projects marking the significant year. I would like to draw our readers’ attention to one in particular.
This Saturday at 7 pm, I’m organizing a concert at the church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Manhattan. Details are here. I warmly invite anyone in the area to come to the concert. The performers are trying to recreate the original context of much of Byrd’s Roman Catholic liturgical music, which would often have been performed in a domestic setting, in house Masses celebrated by roving Jesuits tending to the Roman Catholic faithful in a land that had otherwise moved on to the Anglican/Elizabethan religious settlement. All the music on the program is by Byrd. The first half of the concert features much of the music that would be sung at a Mass in honor of the Most Blessed Sacrament as on Corpus Christi, sung one-on-a-part. The second half of the concert explores arrangements of Byrd’s music by the remarkable recusant gentleman Edward Paston, who was acquainted with Byrd and who led a rich musical life (with singers, lutes, and other instruments) in his household. This musical culture seems to have been centered on Roman Catholic music, not only by Byrd but also by earlier English composers from before the reformation as well as more recent composers from the continent like Victoria, Lassus, and Palestrina. I have had occasion to write about this very music before. This time, we are only performing selections from Byrd. I hope some of you can join us.
Even if you can’t be there, I would like to use this moment to call to mind (once again!) Byrd’s remarkable list of reasons to learn to sing. There is much there to serve as spiritual food for modern choir directors. I particularly love the last, chief reason:
The better the voice is, the meeter it is to honour and serve God therewith: and the voice of man is chiefly to be employed to that end.