Overlapping entrances in Byrd's Mass for Four Voices

October 3, 2016

1:37-2:00 is a great example of staggered, overlapping entrances--on the words "jesu christe". Flawlessly clear, focused momentum, a little space before the last one that leads to a half close. The texture never gets muddy, and the range varies. Most importantly, that particular idea can be worked in myriad ways; the path Byrd chose, he heard. If you're not familiar with these masses, which he wrote, daringly (they are Catholic works--with his name printed on each page, no less--in an environment that had seen many brilliant Catholics tortured, hung, and burnt at the stake), late in his life, consider listening to them (the Quink recording is my favorite of the mass for 4 voices). They are really important works of polyphony; Byrd's late style--one deliberately stripped of ostentation and hyper-complex textures in favor of clarity, strict canonic writing, and a tone that is often called "austere"--is one that emerged as conscious artistic choice, a conscious rejection of some ideas and affirmation of others, both spiritual and technical. Queen Elizabeth knew very well Byrd was a catholic, as did many...yet her respect for his mastery left him a well-off man who died in his mid 80's, having innovated and made masterful, groundbreaking contributions to every genre of music available at the time. When he died, his fame had spread across Europe. 

"The natural inclination and love to the art of music, wherein I have spent the better part of mine age, have been so powerful in me, that even in my old years which are desirous of rest, I cannot contain myself from taking some pains therein"--Byrd


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