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Classical Composers A-Z: William Byrd

Peter Wintersgill introduces us to William Byrd, one of the greatest figures, along with William Shakespeare, of the English Renaissance.

Lincolnshire in 1543. The greatest figure, after Shakepeare, of English Remaissance.

Adult Life
Organist at Lincoln Cathedral in 1563, later joint organist with Tallis of the Chapel Royal in 1573. In 1575 wrote Cantiones Sacrae, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, who gave him and Tallis joint sole rights to publish music.

During the 16th Century there were several changes in religious practice with the changing monarchs. Henry VIII was fairly tolerant about church music. Mary, being a devout Roman Catholic, was all for continuing the Roman practices, including the use of Latin. The advisers of Edward VI, then but a boy, were staunch Protestants, causing a violent swing towards Puritan ways, including the use of English with clearer annunciation. Elizabeth, though a Protestant, was tolerant of both methods of worship, as in other matters. Though a Roman Catholic, Byrd was protected from persecution by friends in high places.

Byrd wrote the Great and Short Services, three masses and many anthems, e.g. Sing Joyfully and Christ is Risen. Secular works included The Book of Psalms Sonnets, Songs of Sadness and Piete and Songs of Sunrie Natures Fancies; also works for strings, sundry madrigals and keyboard pieces.

He died at Standon Massey in Essex on 4th July, 1623, aged 80.


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