More on William Byrd

Glenn Ricketts

Last June, I posted this piece in which I attempted to describe “multiculturalism” as it might have been, had not academic  ideologues appropriated it, and rendered it off limits to the rest of us. Take a moment to view the video again, and you’ll hear a real gem of genuine multiculturalism: polyphonic choral liturgical music from the European High Renaissance performed splendidly by the Taipei Chamber Singers. As I noted further, the music was strikingly anomalous within its own milieu. Although the composer, William Byrd, enjoyed the favor and patronage of Queen Elizabeth I, he was nevertheless in a precarious position as one of the small and embattled Catholic minority remaining in late 16th century England, following the upheavals of the Reformation era.

Readers responded positively, but a number indicated to me that they were unfamiliar with Byrd and his music, and requested that I provide some additional information. That I’m happy to do, starting with the soaring motet accessible through the link below (sorry, it wouldn't embed):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU2o30rZiZE

That was Haec Dies, an Easter Sunday gradual published in a collection from 1605.   The ensemble for this performance is The Sixteen, an eminient English group specializing in Renaissance polyphony, conducted here by its founder Sir Harry Christophers, who now also serves as music director for the Boston Handel and Haydn Society.  There are several other similar groups I'd recommend as well, each of which has recorded some sterling renditions of Byrd's largely choral opus:

  1. The Tallis Scholars - founded and directed by Peter Phillips, who is also Reed Rubin director of music , Merton College, Oxford;
  2. Stile Antico - a newer group formed by former choral scholars from Oxford and Cambridge, who also sing sublimely and. like the Tallis Scholars, regularly present concerts in the US;
  3. The Cardinall's Musick - outstanding performers who have also issued the first complete, 13-cd set on which all of Byrd's Latin liturgical music has been recorded.  This was no small feat since, as I had noted in my earlier piece, most of this music lay unsung and unknown for more than 300 years.

If you'd like stiil more,  I suggest scouting out the annual William Byrd Festival held in Portland Oregon, which assembles quite an impressive array of musicologists, performers, historians and master classes.

I hope that this information is helpful, and please do enjoy the music - sorry, Musick.

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