Wednesday, 5 December 2007

22. William Byrd - Masses (1592-1595)


Title: The Byrd Edition: The Masses
Performer: The Cardinall's Musick
Director: Andrew Carwood
Year: 1999
Length: 1 hour 5 minutes


This is a neat little recording of the Byrd masses, they are three "free" masses, not really based on a song like most we had here, and they all consist of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Each mass is quite small consisting of something around 20 minutes. The performances are excellent and there is a little organ interlude which is extraneous to the masses between them just to mark the end of one mass and the beginning of another one (because it can be hard to tell them apart if you are not paying particular attention).

The Byrd masses more than interesting by themselves show how the composition of choral music has changed since Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli, the voices are much more focused here, than even in Palestrina, but as a natural evolution from that. The polyphony embellishes rather than distracts from the text which frankly is as much a musical movement as a counter-reformation attitude, even though Byrd was a Catholic and writing for Catholics he would be perfectly aware of Protestant criticisms of the lack of respect for the scripture by the part of the Catholic Church. It was in reply to this that the Council of Trent frowned upon Polyphonic masses and the reason that Masses that respected the text and made it intelligible like Palestrina's and Byrds became the more popular ones.

Again, these are interesting pieces of beautiful music but not dissimilar to Palestrina's enough to deserve adding to my personal collection. Still, if you are really into Masses, get it. By the way I am stopping the Track Highlights thing on this blog, because it is not only hard to do in the context of a larger work, but often damaging to the work itself to single out pieces of it. Each Mass here is a unity by itself. If I find it suitable I will point out some highlights in the review itself, so here I think the Mass for four voices, which is the first one in the recording is the best one, and if you have limited time dedicate 20 minutes to that one.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

The three Masses and the two books of Gradualia, published over fifteen years, were Byrd's major contribution to the Roman rite. These were written for the intimate, even secretive, atmosphere of domestic worship, to be performed for a small group of skilled amateurs (which included women, according to contemporary accounts) and heard by a small congregation. Although such worship could be dangerous—even a capital offense in some cases—Byrd went further than merely providing music. There are many records of his participation in illegal services. A Jesuit missionary describes a country house in Berkshire in 1586:

The gentleman was also a skilled musician, and had an organ and other musical instruments and choristers, male and female, members of his household. During these days it was just as if we were celebrating an uninterrupted Octave of some great feast. Mr. Byrd, the very famous English musician and organist, was among the company....

The very short Kyrie of the Mass for 3 voices, the version on the album reviewed here is superior however:

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