English composer; born 1543 in Lincolnshire, England; died 1623.
Byrd was the leading English composer of his generation, and one of the acknowledged masters of the late Renaissance. Byrd is known primarily for his prodigious and generally excellent output of sacred choral music, both in Latin (for Catholic services) and in English (for Anglican services, producing works of great power. However, he penned very high-quality works in every form known to his time: madrigals, keyboard pieces, consorts (music for small string orchestras), and songs. According to Todd McComb in Classical Net:
Byrd is considered by many the greatest English composer of any age, and indeed his substantial volume of high quality compositions in every genre of the time makes it easy to consider him the greatest composer of the Renaissance - his
versatility and genius outshining those of Palestrina and Lassus in a self-evident way. English music of the period was amazingly rich, dominating the music of the continent in depth and variety, in a way that was not seen before or since. Also, Byrd's pre-eminent position at the beginning of music publication in England allowed him to leave a substantial printed legacy at the inception of many important musical forms. It would be impossible to over-estimate his subsequent influence on the music of England, the Low Countries, and Germany.
Byrd's first musical post was as organist at Lincoln Cathedral at an early age. Then in 1572, he was appointed to the position of joint organist of the Chapel Royal, along with his mentor and teacher, Thomas Tallis. In 1575, Byrd and Tallis were granted an exclusive license from Queen Elizabeth I for printing sheet music and music paper in England. This license, no doubt, served Byrd well in getting his own compositions published. (Tallis, who died only ten years later, benefited less). However, since Tallis and Byrd were already the eminent composers of the country, the license appears to have served both the country and its musical legacy well.
Byrd was an avowed Catholic, even though the practice was outlawed in England during that time. He was allowed to publish works for the Catholic liturgy, even though these were probably not allowed to be performed in public. Byrd published many Latin works in the motet form, beginning with the co-publication with Tallis of "Cantiones Sacrae" (sacred songs) in 1575, and continuing with two additional volumes of "Cantiones Sacrae" in 1589 and 1591. These motets, almost all of them for five voices, demonstrate a rich counterpoint style. Between 1593 and 1595, Byrd published three Latin masses, for three, four, and five voices. Through their precision and balance, they hint at the classical forms which would predominate two hundred years hence. Following the three Latin masses, in 1605 and 1607 Byrd published two huge volumes of choral works, the "Gradualia". These volumes consist of many short verses of music which can be combined in various ways to form liturgically accurate song services for every major votive mass and feast of the Roman Catholic calendar.
Byrd also published many sacred choral works for the Church of England. Many of these were in the English anthem style, including the newer "verse" style with organist accompaniment. Byrd wrote his acclaimed Great Service in this form, as well as three other service settings, using the texts of the Anglican liturgy.
Byrd's contributions to keyboard music were no less significant than his vocal music legacy. Though very few of his keyboard compositions were composed during his lifetime, about 140 are known today. A few of Byrd's keyboard compositions, along with those of Orlando Gibbons and John Bull, appear in the first English publication of keyboard music, "Parthenia", in 1612/1613. Byrd increasingly focused on composing for the rhythmically-advanced paired dance forms pavan and galliard. Some have compared the technical achievements of these keyboard compositions to Bach's Preludes and Fugues, or to Beethoven's Sonatas.
Compleat list of categorized, published works -->
- AMG All Music Guide (allmusic.com)
- Classical Net (www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/byrd.html)
- Stainer & Bell, William Byrd: Complete list of works (http://www.stainer.co.uk/byrdfull.html)
- Naxos/HNH (http://www.hnh.com/composer/byrd.htm)