The firste Pavian from My Ladye Nevells Booke - William Byrd

The firste Pavian from My Ladye Nevells Booke - William Byrd



At the turn of the seventeenth century, English composer William Byrd (1540-1623) was a significant figurehead within the late renaissance. Along with English composers such as Henry Purcell and John Dunstable, Byrd paved the way for English musical composition. Byrd studied under Thomas Tallis and was prolific in Anglican music despite his Catholic background. 


Byrd compositional style was one of versatility, writing in several different forms for the Anglican church. This included music for Great Service, three Short Services, psalms, full anthems, and verse anthems. In addition, Byrd was quite prolific in vocal compostitions including Latin masses and motets. With the Great Service serving as inspiration, Byrd and teacher Tallis produced two  joint compilations called the "Contiones Sacraes" (1589 and 1591). These sacred collections held held a total of thirty-seven motets. Byrd's sacred collection of verses were written in Latin text and were exclusively to be performed with five voices. Within most of the motets, there is an audible tonal center as well as uses of imitative polyphony. 


As previously mentioned, William Byrd was known for his versatility, composing in several different genres. In addition to sacred vocal songs, motets and masses,  Byrd also produced instrumental music. For example, Byrd compiled 42 keyboard selections entitled, My Layde Nevells Booke, in 1591. In contrast to his liturgical vocal settings, these keyboard works are based on folk tunes and dances as well as events that were occuring at the time. In order to further draw out these programmtic themes, Byrd employed the use of hexachords in his writing. 

Observations Edit

After reviewing both genres of composition Byrd was prolific in, it seems interesting to me that two forms so different could have quite a few similarities. Though stark in contrast, both keyboard and sacred motet compilations were written to evoke emotion. The majority of Byrd's compositions were influenced by realistic occurences, poetic language, or raw emotion that was within him. In a sense, I believe that Byrd's compositional style was a foreshadowing for what was to come in later centuries. 


Mackay, James S. Contrapuntal Strategies in William Byrd's 1589 Cantinoes Sacrae. The University of McGill Library and Collections, 2000. 


Grout, Donald Jay. A History of Western Music. New York: Norton, 1960. Print.