Byrd, William ca. 1542–1623 English Composer

views updated

Byrd, William
ca. 1542–1623
English composer

William Byrd was the leading English composer of the Renaissance. His development of the English madrigal, among other musical accomplishments, earned him the title "father of British music."

As a young man, Byrd held the positions of organist and choirmaster at Lincoln Cathedral. By the age of 30, he had moved to London to join the Chapel Royal, a group of musicians and clergy members who arranged and performed religious music for English royalty. Byrd sang and played the organ with the Chapel Royal until 1594. After retiring from these duties, he continued to compose music.

Byrd's work includes nearly every type of Renaissance music, both sacred and secular*. Of his sacred works, the best known are his three Masses, published during the 1590s. He earned his fame, however, for his work with secular vocal music. Byrd developed a new form of madrigal* that featured a solo voice accompanied by stringed instruments, rather than many voices. He also broke new ground by composing purely instrumental works at a time when most English music featured the voice.

(See alsoMusic; Music, Instrumental; Music, Vocal. )

* secular

nonreligious; connected with everyday life

* madrigal

piece of nonreligious vocal music involving complex harmonies, usually for several voices without instrumental accompaniment

About this article

Byrd, William ca. 1542–1623 English Composer

Updated About content Print Article