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William Byrd
c.1540 - 1623
Great Britain, England
W. Byrd
William Byrd (ca.1540 - 1623), an English composer; born in London at the end of 1539 or early 1540. Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) was the famous teacher of William Byrd. Byrd was organist and choirmaster at Lincoln Cathedral. In 1572 Byrd obtained the prestigious post of Gentleman of the Chapel Royal following the tragic death of Robert Parsons (c.1530 -1570). William Byrd was the foremost composer of the Elizabethan (1533-1603) age. Certainly he belongs to the great English masters. Byrd was a master of keyboard music and the madrigal as well as Latin and English sacred music for both churches. Byrd remained throughout his life a dedicated Roman Catholic who was persecuted as a recusant and who upheld through his art the old Roman faith. William Byrd was a prolific composer among others with Cantiones Sacrae (1575) Cantiones Sacrae (1589), Cantiones Sacrae (1591). Furthermore he wrote organ/keyboard music, three masses (in three, four and five voices), English songbooks 1588 and 1589, English Anthems, English Services, Book 1, English Services, Book 2, liber primus (Gradualia I) (1605) and liber secundus (Gradualia II) (1607) and more. As from 1594 Byrd stayed at the end of his life in Stondon Massey and passed away on the 4th of July 1623.
Author:Wim Goossens
Contributor:Tassos Dimitriadis (picture)
Domine, secundum actum meum
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1575
Musical form:Motet à 6 vocibus aequalium
Text/libretto:Latin from a Responsorium de Officium Defunctorum
Label(s):GAU 178 & GAU 197
CRD 3492 & CRD 5003
CHAN 0578 & HM CD04

♫ Domine, secundum actum meum
© CRD Records 5003
Responsorium Text:
R. Domine, secundum actum meum noli me iudicare:
nihil dignum in consepctu tuo egi.
Ideo deprecor maiestatem tuam, ut tu,
Deus, deleas iniquitatem meam.
R. Lord, judge me not according to my deeds:
for I have done nothing worthy in thy sight.
Therefore I entreat thy majesty, that thou,
O God, would blot out mine iniquity.
Contributor:Wim Goossens
Domine, secundum actum meum is a plainchant from the Responsorium de Officium Defunctorum Ad Matutinum and as Respond set by William Byrd for six voices (CATTTB). The Domine, secundum actum meum is an old Responsorium,/Respond defunctorum and still published in the old Liber Usualis page 1798 and is sung after Lectio VIII Ad Matutinem. The Domine, secundum actum meum is written in a very modest imitative polyphonic way and it consists out of 127 bars. In Domine secundum actum meum Byrd utilises double imitation with which Byrd was experimenting at that time (1575). It becomes a true counterpoint-subject working with or against the main theme. In the prima pars the discantus (TI) starts, followed by Tenor (TIII), Tenor secundus (TIV), Superius, Contratenor (TII) and Bassus. In “Noli me” and “ judicare” (bars 33-38) we see homophonic passage which will be repeated and followed by homophonic “nihil dignum” (43-46). The end of the first part starts we an imitative “In conspectu tuo” in all voices from (bar 47) ending in A-major. In this first part Byrd shares in the beginning some features of Ferrabosco’s (1543-1588) motet Domine non secundum peccatis nostris, which was a normal technique introduced by the Netherlanders. The secunda pars of this motet starts with Tenor Secundus (TIV), Contratenor (TII), Superior, Bassus, Tenor (TIII) and Discantus (TI) in imitative style. The “Ut tu Deus” (from bar 96) is set like a despairing shout with a minor third ( a-c), by the Bassus followed by other thirds (d-f; e-g) in other parts. It is a very important - full of sadness - part of this motet and is accentuated in repetition by each voice (96-123). The motet ends hopeful in A-major. Byrd used only the first two lines of the Respond see the text below in omitting the belonging Versicle. This motet is for the first time published in Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, London 1575, nr. 24.
Author:Wim Goossens
Libera me Domine de morte aeterna
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1575
Musical form:Motet a 5 vocibus inaequales
Text/libretto:Latin from the Exsequiarum Ordo de Officium Defunctorum
Label(s):GAU 178
GAU 197
HM 1053
Libera me Domine de morte, a motet from he Exsequiarum Ordo de Officium Defunctorum.
Author:Wim Goossens

♫ Libera me Domin de morte aeterna
© ASV GAU 197
Text Responsorium:
R. Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
R. Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death, on that fearful day,
when the heavens and the earth are moved,
when you will come to judge the world through fire.
Contributor:Wim Goossens
The ”Libera me Domine de morte” is in general the plainchant from the Exsequiarum Ordo more specific a Responsorium/Respond sung during the final blessing of the coffin on its catafalque. This Libera me (there are more (4) plain-chant variations known) – Byrd set another one - is an old Responsorium out of the In Exsequiis and sung in the part Absolutio super tulum and is published in the old Liber Usualis pages 1763 – 1771. Following the text Byrd uses the Roman text version page 1767/68 of the old Liber Usualis but only the first two lines. This moving motet Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna – in exsequiis - is written by Bird for five voices (SAATB in general an imitative polyphonic counterpoint with some homophonic phrases. Discantus (AI) starts followed by Bassus, Contratenor (AII), Tenor and Superius. The cantus firmus plainchant is throughout set in the Superius. Byrd creates an austere sphere. The total motet consists out of 79 bars. The cantus firmus is the vast basic in this motet and gives Byrd some interesting imitative points see for instance “de morte aeterna” ( bars 7-20) frequently repeated in the three middle voices. (Discantus, Contratenor, Tenor) and at the end in “Saeculum per ignem” ( bars 63-76). This motet ends in G-flat. This motet is for the first time published in Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, London 1575, nr. 33.
Author:Wim Goossens
Libera me Domine, et pone me
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1575
Musical form:Motet a 5 inaequalium
Text/libretto:Latin out of de Officium Defunctorum
Label(s):GAU 178
Libera me Domine, et pone me is taken out of Lectio septa Officium defuntorum ad Matutinum in tertio nocturno,
Author:Wim Goossens

♫ Libera me Domine et pone me
© ASV GAU 197
Lectio Text:
L. Libera me Domine, et pone me iuxta te:
et cuiusvis manus pugnet contra me.
SP: Dies mei transierunt,
cogitationes meae dissipatae sunt,
torquentes cor meum.
Noctem verterunt in diem,
et rursum post tenebras spero lucem.
FP L. Deliver me, O Lord, and place me at thy side,
and let anyone’s hand contend against me.
SP L: My days have passed away,
my thoughts are dissipated,
tormenting my heart.
They have turned night into day,
and after darkness I hope again for light.
Contributor:Wim Goossens
The text for this Motet taken by Byrd out of Lectio septa Officium defuntorum ad Matutinum in tertio nocturno, Office of the Dead Matins and is written for five voices (CAATB). See the Liber Usualis page 1797. Byrd has chosen here for a part of the 7th Lesson Office of the Dead at Matins. The total motet consists out of 144 bars. In history of the Renaissance some composers have set the mentioned lessons on music. The best example are the two collected Lessons, Lectiones sacrae and Sacrae Lectiones composed by the Netherlander Lassus (1532-1594) in motet-form. These are two Motet cycles each of which consists out of the nine Lectiones/Lessons from the Book Job which appear in the Officium Defunctorum ad Matitutinum translated Matins of the Office for the Dead which have been published in the old Liber Usualis, on pages 1782 -1799. See too the Officium Defunctorum Ad matutinum and Missae pro Defunctis by Juan Vasquez (c.1510-1560). In general these nine Lectiones were full part of the Office for the Dead from the eleventh Century until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 were substantial revisions and alterations of the total Office in the Catholic Church have been made. This Office for the Dead more specific these Lectiones would be read Ad Matutinum in the morning prior to a Requiem Mass and the Burial. All nine Lessons in the Service were normally followed by a Responsorium from which two are set by Byrd.. Lassus is as far as I know the first composer who set all nine Lectiones in one composition together. Here you see a small reproduction of a part of the 7th lesson seen the amount of bars a large and interesting one. Byrd starts with two of opposite imitative points in “Libera me” in all voices (bars 1-14). The secunda pars (from bar 51) is more swifter, rhythmically colourful, with more syncopations and some little ornamental figures (bars 78-89). Seen the text Byrd uses more moving dissonants, sharps and flats to force more effect. Both parts end in G-flat. This Libera me Domine, et pone is published in Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, London 1575, no 5.
Author:Wim Goossens
Peccantem me quotidie
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1575
Musical form:Motet à 5 vocibus inaequalium
Text/libretto:Latin out of de Officium Defunctorum
Label(s):HMX 29080.16.20F
GAU 178 & GAU 197
OBSID-CD 706 & HMA 1901053
HM 1053 & CRD 3492

♫ Peccantem me quotidie
© Hyperion Records CDA68388
Responsorium Text:
R. Peccantem me quotidie et non me penitentem, timor mortis conturbat me, quia in inferno nulla est redemption. Miserere mei, deus, et salva me.
R. The fear of death overwhelms me, who sin every day and not repent: for in hell there is no redemption. Have mercy on me O God and spare me.
Contributor:Wim Goossens
“Peccantem me quotidie” is a plainchant from the Responsorium de Officium Defunctorum Ad Matutinum. The Peccantem me quotidie is an old Responsorium, a Respond which is still published in the old Liber Usualis page 1797 and is sung after Lectio VII in the third Nocturn ad matutinum. This motet Peccantem me is composed by Byrds for five voices (CATTB). In an imitative fluently polyphonic points the parts following each other, starting with Tenor, followed by ContraTenor 2, Discantus, Bassus and Superius. Nearly all parts starts with the moving ( d-e/flat-d).The motet in total contains 114 bars. There are some short homophonic phrases in it we mention “Tibi mortis” (bars 33-36). From bar 82 on starts in all voices an imposing repeating “Et salva me/Spare me” and that’s to hear up to the end! Byrd uses flats and sharps in forcing yet more effect ending in G-flat. Byrd set only the Respond of Peccantem quotidie in omitting the belonging versicle/verse Commissa mea pavesco. This Peccantem me quotidie is published in Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, London 1575, nr. 6.
Author:Wim Goossens
Circumdederunt me doloris mortis
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1591
Musical form:Motet a 5 vocibus inaequalium
Text/libretto:Latin from de Officium Defunctorum
Label(s):CDA 67653
CRD 3439

♫ Circumdederunt me doloris mortis
© Hyperion Records CDA68416
R. Circumdederunt me dolores mortis; et pericula inferni invenerunt me.
V. Tribulationem et dolorem inveni, et nomen Domini invocavi. O Domine, libera animam meam.
R. The anguish of death surrounds me; the pains of hell are around me.
V. I met with trouble and sorrow: And I called upon the name of the Lord. O Lord, deliver my soul.
Contributor:Wim Goossens
This Antiphon “Circumdederunt me” is used in the Officium Defunctorum ad Matutinum and set by William Byrd for five voices (ATTBB).In general the Circumdederunt is often especially used at the continent by Spanish and Portuguese composers in the Office of the Dead like Cristobal de Morales (c.1500-1553), Pedro Fernandez (1483-1547), Aires Fernandez (16th C.), Juan de Avila ( 16th C.), Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c.1590-1664), Bartolomeo Trosylho (1500-1567), Hernando Franco (1532-1585), Sebastian de Vivanco (c.1551-1622), the German Balthasar de Senarius (c.1485-1544) and even Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) and Jacob Regnart (1540-1599) did. This Antiphon is set by them all as an invitatory Antiphon for the Office of the Dead. On the other hand the interesting plainchant Circumdederunt is often used in chansons, motets, parody masses and even used in the splendid Requiem Mass by the Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1547) a composer belonging to the third Netherlandish generation. Further more a “Circumdederunt me” is on the other hand the Introit out of the liturgy of Septuagint/Septuagesima. But that text used in that plainchant differs from the wording used by the mentioned composers and in this case by William Byrd. It is difficult to give William Byrd a place as a Protestant composer between the Continental composer who solely worked in the Catholic area and for the Catholic/Roman services. But he was a catholic but with a lot of problems. But in 1590 Byrd left London and headed for Stondon Massey in Essex. Here Byrd became part of the extended Catholic family of Sir William Petre and took part in the recusant ceremonies centred on Ingatestone Hall. So here Byrd wrote music for the catholic services so Byrd earlier did from 1570-1590.. The Latin motets included here at this website by Byrd were somewhere in between Byrd's rather official Protestant service music and the underground masses but the latter of course from an extraordinary level. In is his heart Byrd was a Catholic believer. Byrd was aware of the excellent technique by his Netherlandish colleagues abroad. And more William Byrd was befriended with the Italian Ferrabosco the elder (1543-1588) who left Italy and worked and lived together with him in London, so he could be familiar with the continental developments. Byrd indeed was. This motet “Circumdederunt me” is written in an vast polyphonic imitative flowing style, with homophonic elements in it, starting with Tenor (bass), followed together with by Contratenor (TII), Medius (TI) , Bassus, and at last Superius. The atmosphere of this motet is austere. The total motet contains 86 bars. Of course Byrd uses a lot flats and sharps to give colour to the text and emphasizes certain words. But we mention in that particularly way “O Domine Libera animam meam” set in a repeated invocation from bars 67 up to the end, Byrd brings here homophonic and polyphonic technique together. The motet ends in full D-major underlining the wording “libera animam meam”. This motet is published and found in Liber Secundus Sacrarum Cantionum, London 1591, nr. 15.
Author:Wim Goossens