Sunday, August 2, 2015

William Byrd: Credo (From Mass For Four Voices)

     William Byrd, the composer of the "Credo" performed by the Tallis Scholars in the clip below, was an unusually interesting character.  One of the leading Anglican composers during the early part of English Queen Elizabeth I's reign, he converted to Catholicism in the 1570's, at a time when it was becoming increasingly dangerous to be a practicing Catholic in England.  He persevered in the Catholic faith in the face of some serious disincentives: for the last five decades of his life he was forced to pay a heavy recusancy tax for failure to attend Church of England services, and often faced other difficulties as well.  Some of his Catholic associates were put to death because of their Catholicism.  Byrd's emphasis on Biblical texts involving themes such as the Babylonian Captivity has long been taken as a musical commentary on the plight of Catholics in Elizabethan England.
     I suppose I should mention that he wrote some incredibly beautiful music.  The excerpt below, for instance, taken from his Mass for Four Voices, one of a large number of Catholic liturgical pieces Byrd composed in the 1590's and 1600's for use in illegal (and quite hazardous) Masses at the home of his patron, Sir John Petre.  Interestingly, he continued to compose music for the Anglican Church as well, some of which continued in use for a century or more after his death.

     One final, intriguing note on this most intriguing of Catholic composers: he, along with fellow composers (but not fellow Catholics) John Merbecke and Thomas Tallis, claims November 21st as his feast day on the liturgical calendar of the U.S. Episcopal Church (a member church of the Anglican Communion).