One Byrde in Hande
Credits Tracklist Programme note Biography
One Byrde in Hande
Post-production Julia Thomas Design stoempstudio.com
Recorded in De Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Haarlem, Holland, on 18–20 January 2017 Recording Producer & Engineer Philip Hobbs
Cover Image Birds on a Balustrade by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636–1695), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
William Byrd (c. 1540–1623) One Byrde in Hande
RICHARD EGARR harpsichord
1 — Prelude, MB12 0:50 2 — Fantasia, MB13 8:32 3 — Prelude, MB1 0:45 4 — Ground, MB9 3:41 5 — Ground, MB43 2:44 Pavan and Galliard, MB16 6 — Pavan 4:19 7 — Galliard 1:21 8 — Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, MB64 7:32 9 — Ut, mi, re, MB65 5:42 10 — Fantasia, MB62 7:49 11 — Lachrymae Pavan, MB54 5:06 12 — Prelude, MB24 1:07 The MB numbering refers to the two volumes of Byrd’s solo keyboard works published in Musica Britannica (volumes 27 & 28).
13 — Fantasia, MB25 6:06 14 — The bells, MB38 6:21
Harpsichord: Joel Katzman (Amsterdam, 1991) after Ruckers (1638) Pitch: a’ = 393Hz Temperament: quarter-comma meantone 1
One Byrde in Hande
A bird I have that sings so well, None like to her their tunes can raise; All other birds she doth excel, And of birds all best worthy praise. Now this my bird of endless fame, Whose music sweet, whose pleasant sound, Whose worthy praise, whose worthy name, 1 Doth from the earth to heaven rebound.â€‰
As a choirboy at York Minster I grew up singing vast amounts of the extraordinarily broad repertoire that now occupies the Anglican cathedral choral tradition. I sang music ranging in time from Thomas Tallis to Igor Stravinsky. William Byrd always stood out for me from amongst this great flock of church composers. His music seemed so clear yet complex, controlled yet passionate, and always concise yet capable of creating enormous aural grandeur. It was only later in my twenties that I fell in love with his keyboard music. The final piece on this recording has been with me during my whole career as a harpsichordist and is an extraordinary, wonderful and unique work. But more of that later… 2
…58. yeares or ther abouts…
…nowe in the Eightieth yeare of myne age…
As the above two pieces of information show, Byrd’s own memory as to his birth year is not quite accurate. As we lack an actual birth certificate it would seem more likely that the earlier date of 1540 is correct. What is sure is that he lived to a ripe old age, dying on 4 July 1623. Byrd (Byrde, Birde, Bird…all spellings which he himself used) the man must have been an extraordinary creature. He was born and educated during the turbulent late reign of Henry VIII, learning his musical craft as a member of the Chapel Royal and forming a particularly close personal and musical bond with the great Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–85). Between them Tallis and Byrd created, cultivated and expanded the English musical landscape for a century, a century which saw untold changes in every aspect of English life: royal, religious, social and political. Byrd rode these changes with consummate skill. His clear thinking, tenacity and cunning 3
saw him remain active him remain active through his later life even though he ran openly against the religious trend. Here is a man that managed not only his musical and religious battles supremely, but could (and did many a time) spend years, sometimes decades, embroiled in property and domestic litigation. All of his music is infused with these personal traits. His keyboard music in particular exerted influence far and wide, propelled not only by his own fame and playing, but also importantly by the championship of his younger colleagues and students. John Bull, Thomas Tomkins and Thomas Morley disseminated his keyboard works both at home and abroad; composers such as the great Dutchman Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck owe enormous debts to Byrd.
For Motets, and Musicke of pietie and devotion, as well for the honour of our Nation, as the merit of the man, I preferre above all other our Phoenix, M. William Byrd, whom in that kind, I know not whether any may equallâ€Śand being of himselfe naturally disposed to Gravitie and Pietie, his veine is not so much for light Madrigals or Canzonets, yet his Virginella, and some others in his first set, cannot be mended 4 by the best Italian of them all.â€‰
Byrd’s ‘Virginella’ consists of pieces written in the common forms used during the sixteenth century: transcriptions of sacred/secular vocal pieces, free forms, contrapuntal works, variations on popular songs, dances, and grounds. Byrd took each of these forms to a completely new artistic level, creating some of the finest keyboard music before J S Bach. Byrd singlehandedly created an English keyboard ‘school’ in the second half of the sixteenth century whose influence continued to exert itself well after his own death. Byrd’s fantasies are sublime creations of wonderful, colourful, complex and often humourous subjects. The fantasy was a form upon which composers could and should demonstrate their greatest skill. It was seen as a ‘… kinde of musicke which is made without a dittie…and the composer is tide to 5 nothing, but that he may adde or diminish and alter at his pleasure.’
The Fantasia in G major, MB62, was described by Tomkins as Byrd’s ‘old Fancy’. Old it may be, but it certainly packs a great many new ideas into a relatively short space of time. So too does the gorgeous Fantasia in A minor, MB13. The Prelude, MB12, is assigned to precede it in that amazing, huge compendium of Elizabethan keyboard gems, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. This Fantasia in A minor is a masterpiece of musical landscaping and spontaneous reaction to developing material. I am sure this work found its way to Amsterdam and the musical consciousness of Sweelinck – a Toccata (also in A minor) by him is an absolute cosmic twin of Byrd’s Fantasia and even uses identical musical points at parallel moments. A late work, the Fantasia in C major, MB25, demonstrates the clarity of thought and intention, wealth of invention and structural mastery of Byrd at the peak of his game. The Prelude in C major, MB24, and the Prelude in G minor, MB1, were published in a keyboard collection of music by Byrd, Bull and Orlando Gibbons entitled Parthenia or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls (c. 1612). This volume, as its title states, was the first engraved keyboard music in England, and how fitting that the great wise old bird’s works should provide the first and largest portion of the book. 6
Byrd’s contrapuntal genius (which in my opinion is on a level with that of J S Bach) is given full rein in both Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la and Ut, mi, re. The manipulation of the ‘hexachord’ (the main building block of music and an important performance guide from the Middle Ages through to the sixteenth century) was a challenge taken up by many late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century keyboard composers. This six-note ascending scale (the ‘Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la’) inspired all kinds of mental gymnastics and contortions. Byrd’s essay was included in the spectacular manuscript entitled My Ladye Nevells Booke. This beautiful volume containing music solely by Byrd was copied by John Baldwin, a lay clerk of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and close colleague of Byrd, and was ‘finished and ended the leventh of September in the yeare of our Lord God 1591’. In his brain-teaser Byrd provides seventeen variations upon the hexachord. This peculiar number probably points to a composition date of 1575, the year of Tallis and Byrd’s joint publication of the Cantiones Sacrae. Dedicated to Elizabeth I in the seventeenth year of her reign, each composer contributed seventeen pieces to the collection. Ut, mi, re is an extraordinarily dense, complex and exhausting mind game. It is simply miraculous how Byrd creates such a substantial and coherent unity from so tiny a musical seed. It is only found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book where it immediately follows Byrd’s hexachord work headed with the direction ‘perge’ (‘proceed’). The pair together makes quite a substantial contrapuntal monument.
The pavan and galliard formed the classic pair of dances in the sixteenth century: the pavan stately and profound, the galliard its energetic and athletic companion. Byrd wrote many utterly breathtaking examples. One of my particular favourites, the Pavan and Galliard, MB16, has sadly been deemed unlikely of his authorship in recent studies due to its lack of a reliable direct source. I therefore include it here as a personal vote of confidence in its quality: in my view it has plumage as beautiful as ever graced any real Byrd. The Lachrymae Pavan was a late sixteenth-century mega-hit by John Dowland, and was set and reset in numerous versions for keyboard. Byrd’s take on it is unusual in two ways: it is cast in a high key of D minor (a fourth above its ‘normal’ key), and is decorated in a very ‘busy’ manner. Both these factors certainly provide a very different experience from the loneliness, solace and downright misery of Dowland’s original. There are several pieces that survive by Byrd bearing the title ‘Ground’. These are very special works with short repetitious harmonic and melodic DNA, and are somewhat hypnotic and minimal in nature. The Ground in G major, MB9, and the Ground in C major, MB43, have a unique source in the Will Forster’s Virginal Book which most likely dates from the mid 1560s, although Tomkins again knew the Ground in G major as the ‘old Ground’. The Ground in C major points the way to perhaps Byrd’s minimal masterpiece – The bells.
The bells is a truly unique creation. As I mentioned in my first paragraph, I have adored this piece since my earliest connection with the harpsichord. It is a brilliant aural soundscape conjuring up the essence of England. Bells and bell-ringing are simply part of the fabric of the English countryside, and have a history stretching way back into the Middle Ages. By the beginning of the sixteenth century ringing had become a particular art, and by the end of this century when Byrd wrote The bells an extremely complex and peculiarly English form of ringing patterns know as ‘changes’ was emerging. Fifty years later these ‘changes’ or ‘peals’ had developed into systems which if rung complete could last well over two hours. Byrd’s ‘peal’ only takes just over six minutes. It brilliantly conjures up a post Sunday morning service atmosphere – one can easily imagine the congregation moving keenly from the church to the pub next door as the bells gradually increase in intensity. Interestingly in Lincoln, where Byrd had his first job as Cathedral Organist, Ordinances of the ‘Companie of Ringers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln’ were sealed on 18 October 1612. This makes it the oldest surviving association of bell-ringers. There is also evidence that ringers were paid by that Cathedral to ring in the late sixteenth century. Maybe this rich and important Lincolnshire tradition played some part in inspiring Byrd’s composition. 9
Until twenty or so years ago it was speculated that Byrd was born in or around Lincoln. His job at Lincoln Cathedral, and his interest in bells perhaps born of an important Lincolnshire tradition of bell-ringing give me a particularly warm and fuzzy feeling. The Lincolnshire landscape – the East Anglian Fen-country with its flatlands and dykes – is such a special one and was obviously very dear to Byrd. I was born in Lincoln and I come from an old family of Walloon dyke-builders who moved to this area in the early seventeenth century. My father was pretty much the first to move any distance away from this area, and to somewhere actually above sea level. Now, however, I am back below in Amsterdam. May my own humble peals ring their way back through the centuries to pay tribute to this most miraculous Bird. © Richard Egarr, 2018
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Anonymous Byrd’s written testimony to the Court of Star Chamber, 2 October 1598 Byrd’s will, 15 November 1622 Henry Peacham, ‘The Compleat Gentleman’ (1622) Thomas Morley, ‘Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke’ (1597)
Richard Egarr has been Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music since 2006. He was Associate Artist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra from 2011 to 2017 and has been appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague from 2019. He has conducted many leading orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and period ensembles such as The Handel and Haydn Society. As well as an accomplished conductor Egarr is also a brilliant harpsichordist, and equally skilled on the organ and fortepiano. He regularly plays solo at major venues such as Wigmore Hall, London, and Carnegie Hall, New York, and has recorded many albums for Harmonia Mundi, notably of J S Bach, Couperin, Purcell and Mozart. Egarr trained as a choirboy at York Minster, was organ scholar at Clare College Cambridge, and later studied with Gustav and Marie Leonhardt. He is a Visiting Artist and Professor at The Juilliard School in New York.
Â© Marco Borggreve
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