Monday Music: Byrd Venite

I know, I know, it’s all church music all the time around here, but what can I say?  I spent most of yesterday singing in services to celebrate the 350th Anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer (and I now know much more Anglican church history than I used to – ask me hiw.  You’re just lucky I’m not inflicting Stanford’s Te Deum (and all its manifold top Fs) on you.  My ear-worm-prone brain is still inflicting it on me…

Instead, here, have some equally British Byrd.


I’m never sure how I feel about Byrd.  He can be utterly gorgeous and he can, in my view, be rather boring, too – most things I sing stay in my head pretty much forever, but Byrd tends to slip away from me.  Perhaps it’s because he is fairly complex, so two weeks isn’t usually enough to get him entrenched, and I’m often still really sight-reading in performance (as, indeed, I was yesterday).  It’s actually quite interesting getting to hear this whole piece without having to concentrate so fiercely on my line.

The other thing about Byrd is that he always seems so much further removed in time than other composers whose work I’m familiar with – he was a Gentleman of Elizabeth I’s Chapel Royal, putting him firmly in the Elizabethan / Renaissance period, but he did not die until 1623, only two years before Orlando Gibbons, whose work seems more modern to me.  Then again, Gibbons was born forty years after Byrd (why do all my favourite composers die young?), so perhaps his influences growing up were more modern?  Byrd was also a Catholic, despite writing a lot of his music for the Anglican church, and his music is more contemplative in style than that of later composers.

But in all honesty, I don’t really know what I’m talking about.  I just know that Byrd to me evokes a feeling of times long gone.  His music feels written for performance in the big gothic cathedrals of the middle ages, not for small chapels.  And it’s rather lovely.

And in case you are wondering what they are singing about, this is a setting of Psalm 95 – the 1662 Book of Common Prayer translation, of course.  For this translation, and an astonishing array of others, follow this link!

(And that’s quite enough talk from me.  And quite enough church music for now, too – I’m off to hear a selection of Mozart and Verdi arias tonight, which are not normally my cup of tea, but I feel certain that one way or another, you will have opera here before the week is out…)

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