Oct. 19 2012
William Byrd was one of the best English composers during the renaissance era. He is one of the greatest known Elizabethan composers of scared music and one of the main writers for the virginals. He wrote many different forms of music that were popular in England at the time. Some of these include sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard, and consort music. He was known for taking main music forms and giving them his own identity. Since Byrd lived for a long time, he encountered many forms of vocal and instrumental music in which he gave his own style. Many of his pieces reflect the emotions he was feeling during a certain time. The biography of William Byrd can be seen through his early life, personal life, professional life, and of course through his publications. Biographical and Background of William Byrd
William Byrd was born in 1543 in Lincoln, London. He was the son of Thomas Byrd. He had four sisters and two older brothers, Symond and John, who were both choristers at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Throughout his younger years, Byrd was greatly influenced by music. He grew up in the Chapel Royal where he studied music with Thomas Tallis. After Byrd spent many years at the Chapel Royal, he continued to stay with Tallis as his assistant. Byrd had a love for composing and stringed instruments. In 1563 he was appointed organist and master of the choristers at the Lincoln Cathedral. Seven years later he was sworn in as a Gentleman in the Chapel Royal, while retaining his job at the Lincoln Cathedral until 1572. After 1572, he remained with Tallis as organist of the Chapel Royal.
Though Byrd had an interesting upbringing in the Chapel Royal and Lincoln Cathedral, that did not stop him from having a personal life. In 1568 he married Julian Birley, who came from a Lincolnshire family. They had a long lasting marriage and together had seven children. The two had their first child named Christopher and then a daughter Elizabeth. Both of them were baptized at the Lincoln Cathedral. Throughout his entire life Byrd remained a devout catholic. This however became a problem during the English reformation.1 Around 1577 laws of recusancy were starting to be enforced. Julian Byrd refused to go to Anglican services and was charged with recusancy and cited to Harlington, Middlesex. His family was said to be excommunicated and known as recusants. Later he was accused of seducing people back in the Catholic cause. Byrds expression could be seen in his motets during the Catholic cause.2 He composed about 50 motets between 1575 and 1591. In 1593 Byrd decided to move his family away from all the rules of the recusancy and they resided in Stondon Massey, Essex. He and his wife remained in Stondon Massey until Julian’s death in 1606.
Even though Byrd had many trials in his life because recusancy laws, he had a very successful professional life. Soon after he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal he became a business partner with his mentor Thomas Tallis in 1575. The two were granted several leases and license to print music paper and continued to print music paper for 21 years. Through this, the two produced a publication under the name of Cantiones que ab argumento sacrae vocantur. This piece was dedicated to the Queen and consisted of 34 motets. As Byrd composed some of the Cantiones each of his contribution is very different from one another. He set these into three different sections with each of them beginning in a semichoir passage. His compositions in the Cantiones showed the influence of Alfonso Ferrabosco, whom Byrd studied under.3 The compositions that Byrd wrote were leading more toward motets of the 1580s. Sadly, the Cantiones failed financially and in 1577 Byrd...
Cited: Andrews, H.K. The Technique of Byrd’s Vocal Polyphony. Oxford University Press. 1st ed. 1966.
Brown, Howard. Music in the Renaissance (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1976), 283.
Fellowes, Edmund. William Byrd. Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.
Kerman, Joseph “Music and Politics: The Case of William Byrd,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 144, No. 3 (2000): 275-287, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1515590 (accessed October 17, 2012).
Kerman, Joseph, “The Masses and Motets of William Byrd,” Journal of the American Musicological Society Vol. 38, No. 1 (1985), 162-169,
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