sábado, 13 de julio de 2013

The Choir Project al día [13-VII-2013]

William Byrd [1540-1623]: Lavdibvs in sanctis à 5.
Stile Antico.
Salve Byrd!

  Andrew Carwood wrote about Byrd and some of his pieces:
"It is Byrd’s genius which first attracts musicians and listeners to his music: his fine command of invention and dramatic flow, his subtle melodies and harmonic turns mixed with a sophisticated understanding of the texts that he chose to set. Quite simply he was the finest composer of his age. As if this were not enough, the added dimension of his life as a recusant Catholic in reformed England gives his music, indeed his whole life, an extra degree of fascination. The story of how a man could not only cling to his beliefs but also publish them abroad in musical form when all around him were being attacked for their faith is indeed remarkable.

  Byrd’s birth year has now been fixed at 1539 or 1540 (he clearly states his age as 58 in a deposition dated 2 October 1598) but very little is known of his early life. He must have been active in or around Westminster during the reign of Queen Mary in the mid 1550s and before the death of John Sheppard, as Sheppard and Byrd together with the young William Mundy each contributed music for a setting of In exitu Israel. This Psalm, with its specific liturgical function in the Sarum rite, was almost certainly written for Mary’s restored Catholic rite.

  His first official post appears to be as Organist of Lincoln Cathedral in 1562. He remained there until the untimely death of the composer Robert Parsons in 1572 allowed Byrd to be appointed to the Chapel Royal in Parsons’ place and thus return to London. His first appearance in print was in 1575 with a joint publication (with his friend and mentor, Thomas Tallis) entitled Cantiones Sacrae. He was exceptionally active in the late 1580s, publishing two secular collections (in 1588 and 1589) and two sacred collections (in 1589 and 1591) within the space of four years.

  In the early 1590s Byrd took leave of London for a less public life in Stondon Massey in Essex. Here he became part of the extended Catholic family of Sir William Petre and took part in the recusant ceremonies centred on Ingatestone Hall. He produced music specifically for Catholic liturgies and even dared to publish them. The three settings of the Mass appeared anonymously during the 1590s and two volumes entitled Gradualia were published in 1605 and 1607. Byrd was censured for his faith and called to account but never received stern punishment or any form of deprivation. Perhaps the censors did not believe that music could be dangerous, or could it be that Byrd was so excellent a composer that he was simply beyond reproach?

  The Cantiones Sacrae of 1591 is masterly collection. It was published by Thomas East and is dedicated to Lord John Lumley (c1534–1609), the son-in-law of the Earl of Arundel and a noted Catholic sympathizer. Lumley was involved in the Ridolfi Plot against Elizabeth for which he was confined in the Tower in 1569 and held at Marshalsea Prison from October 1571 until April 1573. He was cleared of serious treason and returned to public life yet remained under suspicion (a letter of 1594 refers to him harbouring Catholic priests). Lumley was most famous for assembling a magnificent library and maintaining a remarkable garden at Nonsuch Palace. Byrd speaks warmly of Lumley as a patron of the arts in general (he uses the contemporary metaphor of Maecenas in his preface) but also more personally: ‘You are want to be so friendly and so very kind to me that the sweetness of your countenance and words has perhaps brought me no small help in the pursuit of music.’

  At the head of the 1591 Cantiones Sacrae stands the ebullient Laudibus in sanctis, a paraphrase in Latin elegiac verse of Psalm 150. Byrd’s setting is a model of modern practice and full of madrigalianisms, involving rhythmic rhetoric, syncopation, melodic representations of the words, and a wonderful section in triple time as the poet dances before God. By placing this at the head of his collection, Byrd boasts his complete understanding of the new late-sixteenth-century style.

  Of the twenty-one pieces in the 1591 publication, ten draw on the Psalms for their texts. Byrd rarely sets a Psalm in its entirety (Laudibus and Ecce quam bonum are exceptions) but instead will choose verses which have a particular resonance for him, his patrons or potential listeners. Such is the case with Quis est homo?, the second piece in the collection, which starts with an exhortation to good living but contains a sharp sting in the tail. The beautiful opening, gentle and persuasive in its questioning, gives way to the subtle rhythmic imitation at ‘ne loquantur dolum’ (‘do not speak guile’). In the second part, it is the poignant suspensions which pull the heart-strings, as Byrd underlines that ‘the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous’. Whereas the ‘evil-doers’ will have their record blotted out from the earth—a phrase which Byrd reiterates three times before the piece subsides into thoughtful calm. Catholic hopes and fears are at the centre of this piece.

  Fac cum servo tuo (Psalm 118: 124–125) is another exhortation to godly living and Byrd seems to use a style reminiscent of an earlier age. Apart from a brief moment of juxtaposition (upper voices against lower voices to emphasize the text Servus tuus ego sum—‘I am thy servant’), the motet rolls with a gentle unfolding of material with all five voices involved in constant imitation. Early on, at the words ‘misericordiam tuam’ (‘thy mercy’), Byrd either quotes from one of his own pieces or he gives a dry run to the imitation and harmonic progression which he uses to such telling effect in the monumental Infelix ego (the sixteenth motet in the collection).

  Perhaps rather bravely, the fourth piece in the collection is a setting of the Marian antiphon, Salve regina. There would certainly be no place for this in any reformed liturgical celebration and it might even have appeared odd as part of a private household’s evening entertainment. The piece speaks strongly of Catholic Marian devotion, loving and tender, and it seems to offer its sentiments without complications or hidden agendas. Perhaps harkening back to an earlier age, Byrd opens the antiphon with just three voices, a reminder of the verse-writing of the pre-Reformation period, before all five voices cry out to Mary (ad te clamamus). The words ‘groaning’ (gementes) and ‘weeping’ (flentes) give rise to some apt chromatic effects but the true genius of Byrd is seen at the closing section of the piece (O clemens, o pia, o dulcis virgo Maria) which is sublime.

  Byrd returns to the Psalms for Tribulatio proxima est, a penitential setting of two verses from two different Psalms (21 and 69). This is a piece of great rhythmic rhetoric especially at the cry for justice (vindica me), the sinuous bodily contortions associated with contumelias et terrores (insults and terrors), the slow homophony at the description of God as adiutor (‘helper’) and the five-fold repetition of Domine, ne moreris’ (‘O Lord, tarry not’).

  Domine, exaudi orationem meam, inclina continues the thoughtful prayers of Quis est homo? and Fac cum servo. It is a piece where all five voices sing almost constantly in a gentle yet convincingly argued polyphonic statement. In complete contrast stands the energy of Apparebit in finem, a text suitable for Advent from the book of the prophet Habakkuk which brings forth from Byrd some more madrigalianisms: sad, descending thirds for the suggestion that the Lord may not appear when he is expected, and a riot of rhythmic energy at the reminder that when the Lord does come, he will not be slow.

  The remainder of this disc is given over to motets from the Gradualia publication of 1605. The volume is dedicated to another character with Catholic leanings, Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, one of the most learned courtiers of his age but one who seems to have suffered from questionable judgement. He was implicated in a plot in support of Mary, Queen of Scots, and was a supporter of Lord Essex in his misguided and ungrateful revolt against Elizabeth I. Only Howard’s friendship with the Queen’s chief minister Lord Cecil saved him: he was re-admitted to court in 1600 and made Earl of Northampton in an initial rash of ennoblements by James I in 1603. In his preface, Byrd succinctly draws attention to Howard’s changing fortunes describing him as ‘long pressed by the harshness of stormy times’ but ‘now green again’. The newly ennobled Northampton was obviously a supporter of musicians. Not only does Byrd credit him with having secured a substantial pay rise for the Chapel Royal (the first since Edward III!) but Byrd also pays tribute to him as a significant personal patron.

  In the two Gradualia publications of 1605 and 1607, Byrd provides a wealth of settings of the ‘proper’ texts at Mass (that is, those texts that change from day to day or from feast to feast) and other liturgical items specifically for the Catholic rite. In so doing, Byrd has made possible the singing of Masses in honour of the Virgin Mary (Lady Mass) throughout the whole year. Lady Mass, where all of the ‘proper’ texts are in honour of Mary, was a popular observance in England before the Reformation and was retained and encouraged after the Catholic reforms at the Council of Trent.

  Typically, the introit, Salve sancta parens, has a good deal of energy, as befits as piece which is the overture to the unfolding drama of the Mass. The word Alleluia is added to every movement as a reminder of the joy of the resurrection throughout Eastertide and the Gradual is replaced altogether with another Alleluia and verse (thus giving two Alleluias, Ave Maria and Virga Iesse). The entire set—the offertory Beata es, virgo Maria and communion Beata viscera in particular—is a beautiful example of Byrd’s late style of devotional writing. The three-part setting of Regina caeli completes the Marian music for Eastertide. This is something of a compositional (and performance) tour de force. Byrd writes four distinct sections, each with clearly defined characters. The opening two bars bear more than a passing resemblance to Rorate caeli (the introit at Lady Mass during Advent), presumably because of the similarity of the texts rather than any clever hidden theological reasoning.

  The two Psalm settings 'Ecce quam bonum' (Psalm 132) and Unam petii a Domino (Psalm 26: 4) could not be more contrasting, the one intimate and closely argued and the other much more flamboyant and stylish. Ecce quam bonum places four voices in very close proximity in terms of their ranges with an overall compass of just over two octaves between the superius and bassus voices—a fine example of brothers living together in unity! Unam petii a Domino is a beautiful setting and full of light, with equal superius and medius parts and a contratenor part of considerable breadth. The final bars (et visitem templum eius—‘and visit his temple’) are particularly notable for the modern-sounding invention of the part-writing.

  In manus tuas, Domine is unusual in two respects, having originally started life as an instrumental composition and because it is a conflation of two texts. It is a setting of a responsory from Compline in the Sarum rite but added to it is a common suffrage to the Virgin. This certainly would not fit into any established liturgy but its touching, almost naive, song-like style, suggests a piece for private, domestic devotion.

  One of Byrd’s most affecting motets is the setting of a prayer from Compline, Visita quaesumus, Domine. Written for four voices without a low bass voice, it contains exquisite examples of both homophonic writing and close imitation such as might be found in a keyboard composition. Whether designed for liturgical performance or not, the style and character are true to the text and this wonderful motet more than provides spiritual comfort for the silent hours of the night."

  In my opinion, the style of this piece is peculiar in the work of Byrd, but this is extremely rhythmic, pompous and nothing introverted. For me the main features os Byrd's style are: delicacy, elegance, emotionalism, melody and harmony -no rhythm-, expressive power, ability to show the pain of the soul... "Lavdibvs in sanctis" is almost the opposite of all this. However, this piece is really amazing, because it's able to show the greatest joy of praise in a very graphic, describing in detail the sonority of various instruments that they praise the lord.

  Fantastic music in fantastic recording, essential for all Byrd fanatics and passionates of Renaissance polyphony. In my opinion this is one of the best performance of Byrd's music that ever recorded. All the album is simply incredible. For me is one of the best discs of the history. Buy it now!

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