Who was William Byrd?

Who was William Byrd?


So Byrd we think was born around 1540
into a well-to-do London family with strong connections to the commercial
world, and as a young man 23 years old, something like this, he gets his first
appointment which is in a provincial cathedral in Lincoln in 1563, so just a
few years into the reign of Elizabeth I and it’s important to remember
in relation to the Elizabethan musical arrangements that the Reformation was
neither as immediate nor as comprehensively dramatic as it’s often
portrayed, and so it was quite possible, as in certain parts of the country where
the old religion continued, for a certain degree of Catholic observance to
continue. So it was not the case that Byrd was immediately confronted with the requirements that he should compose for the Anglican Church or that he should
somehow lose contact with his own religious beliefs and the musical
traditions that came along with that. So he stays in Lincoln for a little under
10 years and then he’s appointed to the Chapel Royal. He becomes a gentleman of the Chapel Royal in London in 1572 and it’s there that he remains for just over
20 years. At that point he moved. He’d been living as a place called Harlington,
which is close to Windsor, so it’s west of London, and it’s while he’s there that Byrd composes the three masses: one for three voices, one for four, and one for
five; a very remarkable thing for him to have done even given his Catholic belief,
simply because the question arises who on earth would have been interested in
the publication of these pieces since Catholicism was forbidden at the time
and according to the law there would have been no possibility for the
performance of Catholic music during the celebration of the Mass. At this point
Byrd’s career separates into two halves: he leaves London and he goes to live in
Stondon Massey, an extremely small community in Essex, where again
as during his London years he comes under the protection of a well-placed
family. That family, the Petre family, also was a Catholic family, and so the
standard interpretation is that, under the keen and enthusiastic eyes of the
Petre family, Byrd was able to continue to practise his religion and to continue to
compose music for the Catholic rite. And that includes not only the three mass
settings but also two books that come out and these two books the Gradualia
contain settings of the major celebratory occasions as they occurred
in the traditional Catholic calendar that was celebrated throughout Europe.
And so again the question arises in relation to this: who would have
performed these pieces, and would it be understood by anyone outside devout
Catholics exactly how you can rearrange them, which is what you have to do in
order to get the correct chronological spread of how they were to be formed in
the course of the church year.

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