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Byrd, William
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William Byrd

(Born; ?Lincoln, 1543; Died; Stondon Massey, 4 July 1623). English composer, the most versatile of his day. Brought up in London, he was a pupil of Tallis. In 1563 he became Organist and Master of the Choristers at Lincoln Cathedral and married there in 1568. Though he remained at Lincoln until Circa; 1572 he was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1570 and its organist from 1575 (at first jointly with Tallis). In London he rapidly established himself as a composer, gaining influential friends and patrons and earning favour with Queen Elizabeth, who granted him a patent (with Tallis) in 1575 for the printing and marketing of part-music and MS paper. After his wife's death in the 1580s he remarried. He and his family were often cited as Catholic recusants, but he continued to compose openly for the Roman church. In 1593 Byrd moved to Essex, where he spent the rest of his life and was frequently involved in property litigation. His reputation was very high: he was described as 'Father of British Music'. Morley and Tomkins were among his pupils.

Much of Byrd's vast and varied output was printed during his lifetime. His sacred music ranges widely in style and mood, from the florid and penitential motets of the Cantiones sacrae to the concise and devotional ones in the Gradualia (motet sections intended to form an impressive scheme of complete Mass Propers). His secular songs predate the true madrigal; they use intricate, flowing counterpoint derived from an earlier English style (e.g. Tallis, Taverner) and range from solemn lamentations to exuberant jests. His instrumental music is specially important: the many consort songs greatly influenced the later lute ayre, while the virginal pieces are unparalleled in richness of invention and contrapuntal brilliance. In all the genres in which he wrote Byrd was both traditionalist and innovator, channelling continental ideas into a native English tradition, and his expressive range was unusually wide for his day. He wrote for both Catholic and Anglican churches with equal genius.

Sacred vocal music: Cantiones sacrae, 5-8 vv (1575) [with Tallis]; Cantiones sacrae, 5-6 vv (2 vols.) (1589-91); 3 masses, 3-5 vv, Circa; 1592-5: Gradualia, 3-6 vv (2 vols.) (1605-7); 4 services, incl. Great Service, Short Service; anthems; Anglican liturgical settings.

Vocal chamber music: Psalmes, Sonets and Songs, 5 vv (1588), Songs of Sundrie Natures, 3-6 vv (1589); Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets, 3-6 vv (1611); Circa; 50 consort songs.

Instrumental music: (viol consort) 14 fantasias, grounds, dances, a 3-6; 7 In Nomines, a 4-5; 10; hymn and Miserere settings, a 3-4.

Keyboard music: 11 fantasias; 14 variations; dances, incl. 20 pavans and galliards; grounds; descriptive pieces; some in Parthenia (1612-13), many in My Ladye Nevells Booke and the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

© Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK

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