Friday, December 12, 2014

William Byrd - Magnificat

The Tallis Scholars

William Byrd is an interesting figure, not least of which because he was a truly great composer, "the English Palestrina".   He was also a faithful Catholic who, however, composed some of the most significant music ever written for Anglican liturgy, successfully managing to get through one of the bloodier monarchies in the history of the country which regularly saw Catholics and those suspected of any sort of association with a danger to the monarch tortured or killed.  He even managed to work at the Royal Chapel for much of his life, even as his Catholicism became more committed.   How he managed to do this in those complicated times is an indication that life is a lot more complicated than can be fit into a TV costume drama or even an historical novel.


  1. There's an excellent biography of Shakespeare which argues his father was probably RC, and hid it to keep his head (literally), and points out how much Willie the Shake kept his head down (and his opinions uncontroversial) in those tumultuous times.

    So your brief outline of Byrd's life intrigues me. It is, as you say, truly remarkable.

    1. I've heard similar suspicions about Christopher Marlowe. He was scheduled to appear before the Star Chamber court like other writers had right before his alleged murder, his body never produced and with other details that indicate he might have faked it so he could flee to the continent.

      Byrd was interesting and popular enough with the Queen that she gave him a monopoly on printing music at one point. Yet he was a Catholic the whole time, even associating with other Catholics who she suspected of disloyalty and whose lives were in danger. He was, also, one of the greatest composers of his era.