Posts tagged ‘Renaissance’

February 28, 2016

2016-02-28 Notes from the Bench

“Mass for Four Voices” by William Byrd

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


The composer William Byrd (c.1540-1623) is considered one of the great masters of English Renaissance music. His oeuvre of approximately 470 compositions includes sacred and secular vocal works, keyboard pieces, and music for small, instrumental ensembles or consort music. Byrd made significant contributions to the sacred music repertoire of both the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, composing church anthems, motets, masses and service music, and psalm settings. Through his works, Byrd assimilated and transformed the compositional forms and styles of his native England with those of continental Europe in a manner that gives his works their unique identity.

Byrd published “Mass for Four Voices” in London around 1592 for use during the Roman Catholic liturgy. In post-Reformation England, clandestine Masses, often celebrated with considerable pomp, were held in recusant households, despite the risk of being arrested by the authorities for possession of Roman Catholic documents or participating in Catholic liturgies. Byrd wrote this mass setting to conform to the liturgy requirements of the Tridentine Mass that missionary priests from the continent celebrated. He incorporated stylistic elements of Tudor era choral writing, including semi-choir sections, unusual cadence formulae, and drawing material from John Taverner’s (1490-1545) “Mean Mass.”



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