|Death Date:||July 4, 1623|
|Birth Place:||Lincoln, British|
As per our current Database, William Byrd died on July 4, 1623.
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Byrd's first known professional employment was his appointment in 1563 as organist and master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral. Residing at what is now 6 Minster Yard Lincoln, he remained in post until 1572. His period at Lincoln was not entirely trouble-free, for on 19 November 1569 the Dean and Chapter cited him for 'certain matters alleged against him' as the result of which his salary was suspended. Since Puritanism was influential at Lincoln, it is possible that the allegations were connected with over-elaborate choral polyphony or organ playing. A second directive, dated 29 November, issued detailed instructions regarding Byrd's use of the organ in the liturgy. On 14 September 1568, Byrd married Julian Birley; it was a long-lasting and fruitful union which produced at least seven children.
His involvement with Catholicism took on a new dimension in the 1580s. Following Pope Pius V's papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, in 1570, which absolved Elizabeth's subjects from allegiance to her and effectively made her an outlaw in the eyes of the Catholic Church, Catholicism became increasingly identified with sedition in the eyes of the Tudor authorities. With the influx of missionary priests trained at the English College, Douai, (now in France but then part of the Spanish Netherlands) and in Rome from the 1570s onwards, relations between the authorities and the Catholic community took a further turn for the worse. Byrd himself is found in the company of prominent Catholics. In 1583 he got into serious trouble because of his association with Paget, who was suspected of involvement in the Throckmorton Plot, and for sending money to Catholics abroad. As a result of this, Byrd's membership of the Chapel Royal was apparently suspended for a time, restrictions were placed on his movements, and his house was placed on the search list. In 1586 he attended a gathering at a country house in the company of Father Henry Garnett (later executed for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot) and the Catholic poet Robert Southwell.
Byrd obtained the prestigious post of Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572 following the death of Robert Parsons, a gifted composer who drowned in the Trent near Newark on 25 January of that year. Almost from the outset Byrd is named as 'organist', which however was not a designated post but an occupation for any Chapel Royal member capable of filling it. This career move vastly increased Byrd's opportunities to widen his scope as a composer and also to make contacts at Court. Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603) was a moderate Protestant who eschewed the more extreme forms of Puritanism and retained a fondness for elaborate ritual, besides being a music lover and keyboard player herself. Byrd's output of Anglican church music (defined in the strictest sense as sacred music designed for performance in church) is surprisingly small, but it stretches the limits of elaboration then regarded as acceptable by some reforming Protestants who regarded highly wrought music as a distraction from the Word of God.
From the early 1570s onwards Byrd became increasingly involved with Catholicism, which, as the scholarship of the last half-century has demonstrated, became a major factor in his personal and creative life. As John Harley has shown, it is probable that Byrd's parental family were Protestants, though whether by deeply felt conviction or nominal conformism is not clear. Byrd himself may have held Protestant beliefs in his youth, for a recently discovered fragment of a setting of an English translation of Martin Luther's hymn "Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort", which bears an attribution to "Birde" includes the line "From Turk and Pope defend us Lord". However, from the 1570s onwards he is found associating with known Catholics, including Lord Thomas Paget, to whom he wrote a petitionary letter on behalf of an unnamed friend in about 1573. Byrd's wife Julian was first cited for recusancy (refusing to attend Anglican services) at Harlington in Middlesex, where the family now lived, in 1577. Byrd himself appears in the recusancy lists from 1584.
There is no documentary evidence concerning Byrd's early musical training. His two brothers were choristers at St. Paul's Cathedral, and Byrd may have been a chorister there as well under Simon Westcote, although it is possible that he was a chorister with the Chapel Royal. A reference in the prefatory material to the Cantiones sacrae published by Byrd and Thomas Tallis in 1575 tends to confirm that Byrd was a pupil of Tallis in the Chapel Royal. According to Anthony Wood, Byrd was "bred up to musick under Tho. Tallis." Moreover, one of Byrd's earliest compositions was a collaboration with two Chapel Royal singing-men, John Sheppard and William Mundy, on a setting for four male voices of the psalm In exitu Israel for the procession to the font in Easter week. It was probably composed near the end of the reign of Queen Mary Tudor (1553–1558), who revived Sarum liturgical practices.
Byrd's commitment to the Catholic cause found expression in his motets, of which he composed about 50 between 1575 and 1591. While the texts of the motets included by Byrd and Tallis in the 1575 Cantiones have a High Anglican doctrinal tone, scholars such as Joseph Kerman have detected a profound change of direction in the texts which Byrd set in the motets of the 1580s. In particular there is a persistent emphasis on themes such as the persecution of the chosen people (Domine praestolamur a5) the Babylonian or Egyptian captivity (Domine tu iurasti) and the long-awaited coming of deliverance (Laetentur caeli, Circumspice Jerusalem). This has led scholars from Kerman onwards to believe that Byrd was reinterpreting biblical and liturgical texts in a contemporary context and writing laments and petitions on behalf of the persecuted Catholic community, which seems to have adopted Byrd as a kind of 'house' composer. Some texts should probably be interpreted as warnings against spies (Vigilate, nescitis enim) or lying tongues (Quis est homo) or celebration of the memory of martyred priests (O quam gloriosum). Byrd's setting of the first four verses of Psalm 78 (Deus venerunt gentes) is widely believed to refer to the brutal execution of Fr Edmund Campion in 1581 an event that caused widespread revulsion on the Continent as well as in England. Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, Byrd's Quomodo cantabimus is the result of a motet exchange between Byrd and Philippe de Monte, who was director of music to Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, in Prague. In 1583 De Monte sent Byrd his setting of verses 1–4 of Vulgate Psalm 136 (Super flumina Babylonis), including the pointed question "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" Byrd replied the following year with a setting of the defiant continuation, set, like de Monte's piece, in eight parts and incorporating a three-part canon by inversion.
The Cantiones were a financial failure. In 1577 Byrd and Tallis were forced to petition Queen Elizabeth for financial help, pleading that the publication had "fallen oute to oure greate losse" and that Tallis was now "verie aged". They were subsequently granted the leasehold on various lands in East Anglia and the West Country for a period of 21 years.
In 1588 and 1589 Byrd also published two collections of English songs. The first, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs of Sadness and Pietie (1588) consists mainly of adapted consort songs, which Byrd, probably guided by commercial instincts, had turned into vocal part-songs by adding words to the accompanying instrumental parts and labelling the original solo voice as "the first singing part". The consort song, which was the most popular form of vernacular polyphony in England in the third quarter of the sixteenth century, was a solo song for a high voice (often sung by a boy) accompanied by a consort of four consort instruments (normally viols). As the title of Byrd's collection implies, consort songs varied widely in character. Many were settings of metrical psalms, in which the solo voice sings a melody in the manner of the numerous metrical psalm collections of the day (e.g. Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, 1562) with each line prefigured by imitation in the accompanying instruments. Others are dramatic elegies, intended to be performed in the boy-plays which were popular in Tudor London. A popular source for song settings was Richard Edwards' The paradyse of dainty devices (1576) of which seven settings in consort song form survive.
Byrd's 1588 collection, which complicates the form as he inherited it from Robert Parsons, Richard Farrant and others, reflects this tradition. The "psalms" section sets texts drawn from Sternhold's psalter of 1549 in the traditional manner, while the 'sonnets and pastorals' section employs lighter, more rapid motion with crotchet (quarter-note) pulse, and sometimes triple metre (Though Amaryllis dance in green, If women could be fair). Poetically, the set (together with other evidence) reflects Byrd's involvement with the literary circle surrounding Sir Philip Sidney, whose influence at Court was at its height in the early 1580s. Byrd set three of the songs from Sidney's sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella, as well as poems by other members of the Sidney circle, and also included two elegies on Sidney's death in the Battle of Zutphen in 1586. But the most popular item in the set was the Lullaby (Lullay lullaby) which blends the tradition of the dramatic lament with the cradle-songs found in some early boy-plays and medieval mystery plays. It long retained its popularity. In 1602, Byrd's patron Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester, discussing Court fashions in music, predicted that "in winter lullaby, an owld song of Mr Birde, wylbee more in request as I thinke."
Thirty-seven of Byrd's motets were published in two sets of Cantiones sacrae, which appeared in 1589 and 1591. Together with two sets of English songs, discussed below, these collections, dedicated to powerful Elizabethan lords (Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester and John Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley), probably formed part of Byrd's campaign to re-establish himself in Court circles after the reverses of the 1580s. They may also reflect the fact that Byrd's fellow monopolist Tallis and his printer Thomas Vautrollier had died, thus creating a more propitious climate for publishing ventures. Since many of the motet texts of the 1589 and 1591 sets are pathetic in tone, it is not surprising that many of them continue and develop the 'affective-imitative' vein found in some motets from the 1570s, though in a more concise and concentrated form. Domine praestolamur (1589) is a good example of this style, laid out in imitative paragraphs based on subjects which characteristically emphasise the expressive minor second and minor sixth, with continuations which subsequently break off and are heard separately (another technique which Byrd had learnt from his study of Ferrabosco). Byrd evolved a special "cell" technique for setting the petitionary clauses such as miserere mei or libera nos Domine which form the focal point for a number of the texts. Particularly striking examples of these are the final section of Tribulatio proxima est (1589) and the multi-sectional Infelix ego (1591), a large-scale motet which takes its point of departure from Tribue Domine of 1575.
There are also a number of compositions which do not conform to this stylistic pattern. They include three motets which employ the old-fashioned cantus firmus technique as well as the most famous item in the 1589 collection, Ne irascaris Domine. the second part of which is closely modelled on Philip van Wilder's popular Aspice Domine. A few motets, especially in the 1591 set, abandon traditional motet style and resort to vivid word painting which reflects the growing popularity of the madrigal (Haec dies, 1591). A famous passage from Thomas Morley's A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597) supports the view that the madrigal had superseded the motet in the favour of Catholic patrons, a fact which may explain why Byrd composed few non-liturgical motets after 1591.
Byrd's acquaintance with the Petre family extended back at least to 1581 (as his surviving autograph letter of that year shows) and he spent two weeks at the Petre household over Christmas in 1589. He was ideally equipped to provide elaborate polyphony to adorn the music making at the Catholic country houses of the time. The continued adherence of Byrd and his family to Catholicism continued to cause him difficulties, though a surviving reference to a lost petition apparently written by Byrd to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury sometime between 1605 and 1612 suggests that he had been allowed to practise his religion under licence during the reign of Elizabeth. Nevertheless, he regularly appeared in the quarterly local assizes and was reported to the archdeaconry court for non-attendance at the parish church. He was required to pay heavy fines for recusancy.
The 1580s were also a productive decade for Byrd as a composer of instrumental music. On 11 September 1591 John Baldwin, a tenor lay-clerk at St George's Chapel, Windsor and later a colleague of Byrd in the Chapel Royal, completed the copying of My Ladye Nevells Booke, a collection of 42 of Byrd's keyboard pieces, which was probably produced under Byrd's supervision and includes corrections which are thought to be in the composer's hand. Byrd would almost certainly have published it if the technical means had been available to do so. The dedicatee long remained unidentified, but John Harley's researches into the heraldic design on the fly-leaf have shown that she was Lady Elizabeth Neville, the third wife of Sir Henry Neville of Billingbear House, Berkshire, who was a Justice of the Peace and a warden of Windsor Great Park. Under her third married name, Lady Periam, she also received the dedication of Thomas Morley's two-part canzonets of 1595. The contents show Byrd's mastery of a wide variety of keyboard forms, though liturgical compositions based on plainsong are not represented. The collection includes a series of ten pavans and galliards in the usual three-strain form with embellished repeats of each strain. (The only exception is the Ninth Pavan, which is a set of variations on the passamezzo antico bass.)
There are indications that the sequence may be a chronological one, for the First Pavan is labelled "the first that ever hee made" in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and the Tenth Pavan, which is separated from the others, evidently became available at a late stage before the completion date. It is dedicated to William Petre (the son of Byrd's patron Sir John Petre, 1st Baron Petre) who was only 15 years old in 1591 and could hardly have played it if it had been composed much earlier. The collection also includes two famous pieces of programme music. The Battle, which was apparently inspired by an unidentified skirmish in Elizabeth's Irish wars, is a sequence of movements bearing titles such as "The marche to fight", "The battells be joyned" and "The Galliarde for the victorie". Although not representing Byrd at his most profound, it achieved great popularity and is of incidental interest for the information which it gives on sixteenth-century English military calls. It is followed by The Barley Break (a mock-battle follows a real one), a light-hearted piece which follows the progress of a game of "barley-break", a version of the game now known as "piggy in the middle", played by three couples with a ball. My Ladye Nevells Booke also contains two monumental Grounds, and sets of keyboard variations of variegated character, notably the huge set on Walsingham and the popular variations on Sellinger's Round, Carman's Whistle and My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home. The fantasias and voluntaries in Nevell also cover a wide stylistic range, some being austerely contrapuntal (A voluntarie, no. 42) and others lighter and more Italianate in tone. (A Fancie no 36). Like the five-and six-part consort fantasias, they sometimes feature a gradual increase in momentum after an imitative opening paragraph.
In about 1594 Byrd's career entered a new phase. He was now in his early fifties, and seems to have gone into semi-retirement from the Chapel Royal. He moved with his family from Harlington to Stondon Massey, a small village near Chipping Ongar in Essex. His ownership of Stondon Place, where he lived for the rest of his life, was contested by Joanna Shelley, with whom he engaged in a legal dispute lasting about a decade and a half. The main reason for the move was apparently the proximity of Byrd's patron John Petre, 1st Baron Petre (the son of the former Secretary of State Sir William Petre). A wealthy local landowner, Petre was a discreet Catholic who maintained two local manor houses, Ingatestone Hall and Thorndon Hall, the first of which still survives in a much-altered state (the latter has been rebuilt). Petre held clandestine Mass celebrations, with music provided by his servants, which were subject to the unwelcome attention of spies and paid informers working for the Crown.
In 1597 Byrd's pupil Thomas Morley dedicated his treatise A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke to Byrd in flattering terms, though he may have intended to counterbalance this in the main text by some sharply satirical references to a mysterious "Master Bold". In The Compleat Gentleman (1622) Henry Peacham (1576–1643) praised Byrd in lavish terms as a composer of sacred music:
Finally, and most intriguingly, it has been suggested that a reference to "the bird of loudest lay" in Shakespeare's mysterious allegorical poem The Phoenix and the Turtle may be to the composer. The poem as a whole has been interpreted as an elegy for the Catholic martyr St Anne Line, who was executed at Tyburn on 27 February 1601 for harbouring priests.
The second stage in Byrd's programme of liturgical polyphony is formed by the Gradualia, two cycles of motets containing 109 items and published in 1605 and 1607. They are dedicated to two members of the Catholic nobility, Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton and Byrd's own patron Sir John Petre, who had been elevated to the peerage in 1603 under the title Lord Petre of Writtle. The appearance of these two monumental collections of Catholic polyphony reflects the hopes which the recusant community must have harboured for an easier life under the new king James I, whose mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been a Catholic. Addressing Petre (who is known to have lent him money to advance the printing of the collection), Byrd describes the contents of the 1607 set as "blooms collected in your own garden and rightfully due to you as tithes", thus making explicit the fact that they had formed part of Catholic religious observances in the Petre household.
The 1605 set also contains a number of miscellaneous items which fall outside the liturgical scheme of the main body of the set. As Philip Brett has pointed out, most of the items from the four- and three-part sections were taken from the Primer (the English name for the Book of hours), thus falling within the sphere of private devotions rather than public worship. These include, inter alia, settings of the four Marian antiphons from the Roman Rite, four Marian hymns set a3, a version of the Litany, the gem-like setting of the Eucharistic hymn Ave verum Corpus, and the Turbarum voces from the St John Passion, as well as a series of miscellaneous items.
The greater part of the two collections consists of settings of the Proprium Missae for the major feasts of the church calendar, thus supplementing the Mass Ordinary cycles which Byrd had published in the 1590s. Normally, Byrd includes the Introit, the Gradual, the Alleluia (or Tract in Lent if needed), the Offertory and Communion. The feasts covered include the major feasts of the Virgin Mary (including the votive masses for the Virgin for the four seasons of the church year), All Saints and Corpus Christi (1605) followed by the feasts of the Temporale (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Whitsun, and Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (with additional items for St Peter's Chains and the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament) in 1607. The verse of the Introit is normally set as a semichoir section, returning to full choir scoring for the Gloria Patri. Similar treatment applies to the Gradual verse, which is normally attached to the opening Alleluia to form a single item. The liturgy requires repeated settings of the word "Alleluia", and Byrd provides a wide variety of different settings forming brilliantly conceived miniature fantasias which are one of the most striking features of the two sets. The Alleluia verse, together with the closing Alleluia, normally form an item in themselves, while the Offertory and the Communion are set as they stand.
In stylistic terms the motets of the Gradualia form a sharp contrast to those of the Cantiones sacrae publications. The vast majority are shorter, with the discursive imitative paragraphs of the earlier motets giving place to double phrases in which the counterpoint, though intricate and concentrated, assumes a secondary level of importance. Long imitative paragraphs are the exception, often kept for final climactic sections in the minority of extended motets. The melodic writing often breaks into quaver (eighth-note) motion, tending to undermine the minim (half-note) pulse with surface detail. Some of the more festive items, especially in the 1607 set, feature vivid madrigalesque word-painting. The Marian hymns from the 1605 Gradualia are set in a light line-by-line imitative counterpoint with crotchet pulse which recalls the three-part English songs from Songs of sundrie natures (1589). For obvious reasons, the Gradualia never achieved the popularity of Byrd's earlier works. The 1607 set omits several texts, which were evidently too sensitive for publication in the light of the renewed anti-Catholic persecution which followed the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. A contemporary account which sheds light on the circulation of the music between Catholic country houses, refers to the arrest of a young Frenchman named Charles de Ligny, who was followed from an unidentified country house by spies, apprehended, searched and found to be carrying a copy of the 1605 set. Nevertheless, Byrd felt safe enough to reissue both sets with new title pages in 1610.
Byrd's last collection of English songs was Psalms, Songs and Sonnets, published in 1611 (when Byrd was over 70) and dedicated to Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland, who later also received the dedication of Thomas Campion's First Book of Songs in about 1613. The layout of the set broadly follows the pattern of Byrd's 1589 set, being laid out in sections for three, four, five and six parts like its predecessor and embracing an even wider miscellany of styles (perhaps reflecting the influence of another Jacobean publication, Michael East's Third Set of Books (1610)). Byrd's set includes two consort fantasias (a4 and a6) as well as eleven English motets, most of them setting prose texts from the Bible. These include some of his most famous compositions, notably Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles (a6), This day Christ was born (a6) and Have mercy upon me (a6), which employs alternating phrases with verse and full scoring and was circulated as a church anthem. There are more carols set in verse and burden form as in the 1589 set as well as lighter three- and four-part songs in Byrd's "sonnets and pastorals" style. Some items are, however, more tinged with madrigalian influence than their counterparts in the earlier set, making clear that the short-lived madrigal vogue of the 1590s had not completely passed Byrd by. Many of the songs follow, and develop further, types already established in the 1589 collection.
Byrd also contributed eight keyboard pieces to Parthenia (winter 1612–13), a collection of 21 keyboard pieces engraved by William Hole, and containing music by Byrd, John Bull and Orlando Gibbons. It was issued in celebration of the forthcoming marriage of James I's daughter Princess Elizabeth to Frederick V, Elector Palatine, which took place on 14 February 1613. The three composers are nicely differentiated by seniority, with Byrd, Bull and Gibbons represented respectively by eight, seven and six items. Byrd's contribution includes the famous Earle of Salisbury Pavan, composed in memory of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who had died on 24 May 1612, and its two accompanying galliards. Byrd's last published compositions are four English anthems printed in Sir William Leighton's Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule (1614).
Byrd remained in Stondon Massey until his death on 4 July 1623, which was noted in the Chapel Royal Check Book in a unique entry describing him as "a Father of Musick". Despite repeated citations for recusancy and persistent heavy fines, he died a rich man, having rooms at the time of his death at the London home of the Earl of Worcester.
Byrd was an active and influential teacher. As well as Morley, his pupils included Peter Philips, Thomas Tomkins and probably Thomas Weelkes, the first two of whom were important contributors to the Elizabethan and Jacobean virginalist school. However, by the time Byrd died in 1623 the English musical landscape was undergoing profound changes. The principal virginalist composers died off in the 1620s (except for Giles Farnaby, who died in 1640, and Thomas Tomkins, who lived on until 1656) and found no real successors. Thomas Morley, Byrd's other major composing pupil, devoted himself to the cultivation of the madrigal, a form in which Byrd himself took little interest. The native tradition of Latin music which Byrd had done so much to keep alive more or less died with him, while consort music underwent a huge change of character at the hands of a brilliant new generation of professional musicians at the Jacobean and Caroline courts. The Civil War, and the change of taste brought about by the Restoration, created a cultural hiatus which adversely affected the cultivation of Byrd's music together with that of Tudor composers in general. In a small way, it was his Anglican church music which came closest to establishing a continuous tradition, at least in the sense that some of it continued to be performed in choral foundations after the Restoration and into the eighteenth century. Byrd's exceptionally long lifespan meant that he lived into an age in which many of the forms of vocal and instrumental music which he had made his own were beginning to lose their appeal to most musicians. Despite the efforts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiquarians, the reversal of this judgement had to wait for the pioneering work of twentieth-century scholars from E. H. Fellowes onwards. In more recent times Joseph Kerman, Oliver Neighbour, Philip Brett, John Harley, Richard Turbet, Alan Brown, Kerry McCarthy, and others have made major contributions to increasing our understanding of Byrd's life and music. In 1999, Davitt Moroney's recording of Byrd's complete keyboard music was released on Hyperion (CDA66551/7; re-issued as CDS44461/7). This recording, which won the 2000 Gramophone Award in the Early Music category and a 2000 Jahrespreis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, came with a 100-page essay by Moroney on Byrd's keyboard music. In 2010, The Cardinall's Musick under the direction of Andrew Carwood completed their recorded survey of Byrd's Latin church music. This series of thirteen recordings is the first time that all Byrd's Latin music is available on disc.
During his later years Byrd also added to his output of consort songs, a number of which were discovered by Philip Brett and Thurston Dart in Harvard in 1961. They probably reflect Byrd's relationship with the Norfolk landowner and music-lover Sir Edward Paston (1550–1630) who may have written some of the poems. The songs include elegies for public figures such as the Earl of Essex (1601), the Catholic matriarch and viscountess Montague Magdalen Dacre (With Lilies White, 1608) and Henry Prince of Wales (1612). Others refer to local notabilities or incidents from the Norfolk area.