Sunday, 30 March 2008

Stondon Massey: Byrd on the box!

Programme three in the series ‘Sacred Music’, entitled 'Tallis, Byrd, and the Tudors', will be broadcast on BBC FOUR at 8.00pm on Friday 4 April. (and repeated at 1.30am on Saturday 5 April; 7.00pm on Sunday 6 April; and 2.05am on Monday 7 April). The programme is an hour long.

The following is taken from:

Simon Russell Beale reaches the religious turmoil of Tudor England as he continues his exploration of the history of Western church music. He tells the story of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, two Catholic composers writing for a Protestant queen, who were at the centre of England's own musical Renaissance.

Tallis's career spanned the reign of four monarchs - Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I - and his music reflects the religious upheavals and bewildering political changes that affected English church music as the nation switched between Catholicism and Protestantism. He began his career as an organist in Dover, moved to Waltham Abbey in Essex, then, after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, was appointed organist at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1543 he was made Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, a position he retained until his death in 1585.

Most likely born in Lincolnshire in 1543, William Byrd was a student of Tallis and the relationship between them was close. They jointly published 34 motets dedicated to Elizabeth I in 1575. When the older composer died, the music Byrd wrote in tribute was among the most beautiful and heartfelt of his prolific career. Appointed organist of Lincoln Cathedral in 1563, by 1572 he had joined Tallis as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, sharing organist duties.

Byrd excelled in almost every musical form cultivated in the England of his time and, perhaps more than any other, his work is a musical record of one of the most challenging times in the history of sacred music.

Music is performed mainly at Waltham Abbey by award-winning choir The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, with a smaller group singing at Ingatestone Hall, Essex, (photo above) where Byrd risked his life taking part in secret worship. There is also music from the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace.

The Open University, who co-produced the series, has created a website linked to the programmes. The site features background information, programme summaries and a selection of music along with expert commentary. There is also space for viewer’s feedback. Go to:
The following is taken from:

“Through a succession of period documents and manuscripts Simon Beale tells the story of Thomas Tallis and his younger colleague William Byrd, the composers at the centre of England’s own musical Renaissance in the Tudor Age. He discovers the uncertainties of the life of a church musician in the sixteenth century, subject to numerous shifts of religious doctrine and worship from one monarch to the next.

“His journey takes him to some of England’s great cathedrals – Canterbury where Tallis was a singer, to Winchester where Mary Tudor was married and to Lincoln where Byrd started his career as the organist. In the account book of Lincoln Cathedral library he discovers one of William Byrd’s elaborate signatures and reflects on the composer’s powerful personality and sense of faith. He also visits many of the places in London and the Home Counties associated with Tallis and Byrd - attempting to find the houses they lived in, the churches where they worshipped
(see note) and, ultimately, their graves.”

Records suggest that William Byrd and his family did not worship at his local church at Stondon Massey.

For example:

In 1615 Byrd “was summoned with his children to appear, to give account concerning their profession” [ERO D/AZ/1/4 f202].

In 1616 at the Ecclesiastical Court at Romford, “William Birde, gent, for a Recusant Papist and for absenting himself from church a long tyme and for standing excommunicate seaven yeares”. His daughter-in-law, Catherine, was reported as “similar” and a neighbour Charles Clark also recorded as “a Recusant” [ERO D/AZ/1/6 f81].

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