Elizabethan Catholic composer and organist; b. Lincolnshire, 1543; d. Stondon Massey, Essex, July 4, 1623. He was organist of Lincoln Cathedral at 20 and in 1572 joined Thomas tallis as coorganist of the Chapel Royal, London. He had been appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel in 1570, and retained this office to the end of his life. He is important in the history of English music because of his many influential developments. Solo song, virginal music, fantasias for viols, the verse anthem, and other music for the Anglican church all benefited from his keen musical mind and unusually diversified talents. His greatest contribution, however, was to Catholic church music, which included three collections of Cantiones sacrae (1575, with Tallis; 1589; 1591), two books of Gradualia (1605, 1607), and three Masses (c. 1611).
As a faithful Catholic, Byrd was seldom free from worry, and an impression of his personal plight seems to emerge from the frequently despondent and penitential nature of the texts of certain of his motets. On the other hand, his professional life appears to have elicited a marked degree of respect and tolerance. Byrd is not known to have traveled abroad, and although he knew the work of some of his Continental contemporaries, his style retains a few parochial features. Yet he was a superbly capable contrapuntist, and ever sensitive to the needs of a liturgical text. His early motets include settings of hymns, responsories, and antiphons based on Sarum chants (see sarum use); later works exhibit an almost exclusive concern with the roman rite, although Catholic services could be held only in strictest privacy.
Bibliography: Collected Works, ed. e. h. fellowes, 20 v. (London 1937–50). e. h. fellowes, William Byrd (2d ed. New York 1948). p. c. buck et al., eds., Tudor Church Music, 10 v. (New York 1922–29) v. 2, 7, 9. j. kerman, "Byrd's Motets: Chronology and Canon," Journal of the American Musicological Society (Boston 1948–) 14 (1961) 359–382. j. l. jackman, "Liturgical Aspects of Byrd's Gradualia, " Musical Quarterly (New York 1915–) 49(1963) 17–37. j. harley, "New Light on William Byrd," Music and Letters 79 (1998) 475–488; William Byrd: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (Aldershot 1997). w. landowska, "English Music of the Past: At the Time of Shakespeare," in Landowska on Music ed. and tr. d. restout (New York 1964) 296–298. t. nasu, "The Publication of Byrd's Gradualia Reconsidered," Brio, 32 (1995) 109–120. j. l. smith, "From 'Rights to Copy' to the 'Bibliographic Ego': A New Look at the Last Early Edition of Byrd's 'Psalmes, Sonets, and Songs,"' Music and Letters, 80 (1999) 511–530. r. turbet, "More Early Printed Editions Attributed to Byrd," Brio, 35 (1998) 105; "Horsley's 1842 Edition of William Byrd and Its Infamous Introduction," Journal of the British Music Society, 14(1992) 36–47.
Like many others who composed music during the Renaissance, William Byrd probably began his training as a chorister in the Royal Chapel in London. At the time, Thomas Tallis was the most important English composer in England, and Byrd studied with him. During 1563, Byrd became organist and choirmaster at the Cathedral of Lincoln. He developed a successful career in Lincoln before being recalled to London to serve as organist and singer in the Chapel Royal. He shared the position of organist with Tallis and together both men received a royal patent (in effect, a monopoly) to publish all music in England for a period of 21 years. Elizabeth I regularly granted such patents to revered members of the court, allowing them to reap generous financial benefits for service to the crown. Byrd thanked the queen with the composition of his Sacred Songs, a work he dedicated to Elizabeth in 1575. During the 1570s and 1580s Byrd regularly composed service music for the new Anglican rite, although his family's Catholic background caused them to be targeted as recusants—those who celebrate Catholic rituals in secret. Sometime during the early 1590s, Byrd went into an early retirement in Essex, where he continued to compose music. He completed three masses, which he published between 1592 and 1595, and two other books of graduals (responses for the Mass) appeared in 1605 and 1607. A few years later Byrd published a collection of his songs. During the long period of his retirement he also instructed students, including the English composers Thomas Morley, Thomas Tomkins, and John Bull.
Besides his church music Byrd composed in almost every genre popular in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. In his Latin church works, Byrd became the first Englishman to master the continental style of contrapuntal motet. In these, he developed the continental style of imitation—in which the voices mirrored each other—to a high point of finesse. At the same time his music granted imaginative and often emotional intensity to the text. Many of his Latin compositions were destined to be performed in private, rather than public, since England as a Protestant country was moving more and more to service music written in the English language. The book of Graduals that he wrote in the early seventeenth century was intended, not just for the Anglican service, but also for the Catholic Mass, making Byrd the last major composer in England to write for the Roman rite. These liturgical works have long been judged to be the finest sacred music written by an English composer. Beyond his output of music intended for church ritual, much of which had to be performed secretly in the houses of great Catholic families in England, Byrd wrote a large number of sacred and secular songs. He scored these for vocal parts, with the melody in the upper line. These works could also be performed by solo voice together with lute accompaniment. It was this versatility that contributed to the success of Byrd's music in the printed music market of the day. Their adaptability, moreover, helped to sustain their popularity, and many of Byrd's songs have been performed in England over the centuries, even to the present day. In the area of keyboard works, the composer was also a master. Well known as a virtuoso on the organ, Byrd also printed some of his keyboard pieces, and these compositions show a great development of the musical form of variation. He also relied on contrapuntal invention and his typically brilliant conception to give structure to his work.
J. Harley, William Byrd: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (Aldershot, U.K.: Scolar Press, 1997).
C. A. Monson, "Byrd, William," in The Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (New York: Scribner, 1999).
Byrd, William, great English composer; b. probably in Lincoln, c. 1540; d. Stondon Massey, Essex, July 4, 1623. There are indications that Byrd studied music with Tallis. On March 25, 1563, Byrd was appointed organist of Lincoln Cathedral. In 1570 he was sworn in as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, while retaining his post at Lincoln Cathedral until 1572. He then assumed his duties, together with Tallis, as organist of the Chapel Royal. In 1575 Byrd and Tallis were granted a patent by Queen Elizabeth I for the exclusive privilege of printing music and selling music paper for a term of 21 years. However, the license proved unprofitable and they successfully petitioned the Queen in 1577 to give them an annuity in the form of a lease. In 1585, after the death of Tallis, the license passed wholly into Byrd’s hands. The earliest publication of the printing press of Byrd and Tallis was the first set of Cantiones sacme for 5 to 8 Voices (1575), printed for them by Vautrollier and dedicated to the Queen. Works issued by Byrd alone under his exclusive license were Psalmes, Sonets and Songs (1588), Songs of Sundrie Natures (1589), and 2 further vols, of Cantiones sacrae (1589, 1591). Many of his keyboard pieces appeared in the MS collection My Lady e Nevells Booke (1591) and in Francis Tregian’s Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (c. 1612-19), among others. During the winter of 1592-93, he moved to Stondon Massey, Essex. He subsequently was involved in various litigations and disputes concerning the ownership of the property. Between 1592 and 1595 he publ. 3 masses, and between 1605 and 1607 he brought out 2 vols, of Gradualia. His last collection, Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets, was publ. in 1611. Byrd was unsurpassed in his time in compositional versatility. His masterly technique is revealed in his ecclesiastical works, instrumental music, madrigals, and solo songs.
(all publ. in London): Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur for 5 to 8 Voices (with Tallis, 1575); Psalmes, Sonets and Songs for 5 Voices (1588); Liber primus sacrarum cantionum (Cantiones sacrae) for 5 Voices (1589); Songs of Sundrie Natures for 3 to 6 Voices (1589); Liber secundus sacrarum cantionum (Cantiones sacrae) for 5 to 6 Voices (1591); Mass for 4 Voices (publ. without title page; c. 1592); Mass for 3 Voices (publ. without title page; c. 1593); Mass for 5 Voices (publ. without title page; c. 1595); Gradualia ac cantiones sacrae for 3 to 5 Voices (1605); Gradualia seu cantionum sacrarum, liber secundus for 4 to 6 Voices (1607); Psalmes, Songs and Sonnets... for 3 to 6 Voices (1611). He also wrote a Short Service for 4 to 6 Voices; a 2ndService for 1 to 5 Voices and Organ; a 3rd Service for 5 Voices; a Great Service for 5 to 10 Voices; 1st Preces and Psalms 47, 54, and 100; and 2nd Preces and Psalms 114, 55, 119, and 24; several other works are incomplete. His keyboard music appeared in My Lady e Nevells Booke (1591), The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (c. 1612–19), Parthenia (c. 1612–13), Will Forster’s Book (1624), and other contemporary collections. Modern eds. of Byrd’s works have been publ. in several series, including the Tudor Church Music and Musica Britannica series. E. Fellowes was a pioneer in the field; he brought out many of the works in his series on the English madrigalists, and also planned a complete ed. of the music, which was continued by T. Dart and others. Their efforts culminated in The Byrd Edition, ed. by P. Brett, which commenced appearing in 1971.
E. Fellowes, The English Madrigal Composers (Oxford, 1921; 2nd ed., 1948); idem, W. B.: A Short Account of His Life and Work (Oxford, 1923; 2nd ed., 1928); F. Howes, W. B.(London, 1928); E. Fellowes, W. B.(Oxford, 1936; 2nd éd., 1948); H. Andrews, The Technique of B.’s Vocal Polyphony (London, 1966); I. Hoist, B. (London, 1972); O. Neighbour, The Consort and Keyboard Music of W. B. (Berkeley, 1978); J. Kerman, The Music ofW. B.: Vol. I, The Masses and Motets of W. B. (London, 1981); R. Turbet, W. B.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1987); A. Brown and R. Turbet, eds., B. Studies (Cambridge, 1991); R. Turbet, W. B. (1543–1623): Lincoln’s Greatest Musician (Lincoln, 1993); J. Harley, W. B.: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (Aldershot, 1997).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Colonial planter and merchant William Byrd (1652-1704) founded one of the most remarkable and enduring political dynasties in America.
The first of several generations bearing the name, William Byrd emigrated from England to the New World as a young man, fortified by an extensive inheritance from an uncle which permitted him to purchase a large estate on the James River (near modern Richmond, Va.). Later, as he became increasingly prominent, he removed to the "Old Dominion's" western frontier. In 1676 he jeopardized his growing economic and political position by joining briefly in Bacon's Rebellion against the troops of royal governor William Berkeley. He had undoubtedly shared in the frustration with the government's inability to prevent depredations by native peoples that had led to the rebellion.
However, connections and wealth helped to smooth over Byrd's involvement with Bacon, and a few years later he sat in Virginia's House of Burgesses, in 1683 moving up to the more elite Council of State—testimony to his growing prominence. He eventually served as auditor general of the colony and president of its council, but it was not in politics that he made his greatest mark.
From his plantation on the James, and later from Westover, his frontier estate, Byrd traded with the Native Americans, parlaying his inheritance into one of the great fortunes of colonial Virginia and setting the keystone for a prolific and powerful political dynasty. Pioneering and exploring even as he traded with the Native Americans, Byrd was one of a small band of white men to move beyond the Blue Ridge in the 17th century. Indeed, he pushed across the Allegheny Divide into Kentucky at the head of a trading company a full century before Daniel Boone.
For Virginians like Byrd, moreover, the Native Americans offered a somewhat risky but enormously profitable wellspring of trade, at a time when such trade was limited to those licensed by the royal governor. By the 1680s Byrd was sending pack trains far into hostile country to exchange pots, pans, guns, and rum for furs and hides that were quickly and profitably sold at Virginia's flourishing eastern ports.
So extensive was his knowledge of the Native Americans that Byrd frequently represented the colony at treaty-making ceremonies. This activity, in turn, led him to a high rank in the Virginia militia. Increasing wealth, meanwhile, opened other economic doors; eventually he augmented his fortune in several ways that became traditional for future colonial Byrds: he was part owner of several merchantmen, a well-known slave dealer, a planter of tobacco, and a dealer in public securities. By the time he died on Dec. 4, 1704, he had firmly established both his family and fortune.
The standard source on Byrd is the biographical sketch in The Writings of "Colonel William Byrd …," edited by John Spencer Bassett (1901). See also Louis B. Wright, The Cultural Life of the American Colonies, 1607-1763 (1957), and Wesley Frank Craven, The Colonies in Transition, 1660-1713 (1967). □
Byrd's finest music was inspired by Latin texts. He was regularly listed as a recusant, virtually retiring from the Chapel Royal (where Elizabeth allowed Latin in the services) to live in Essex close to leading members of the catholic nobility. His two books of Gradualia (1605, 1607) supply music for the proper of the mass, complementing three masterly settings of the ordinary, whose finely balanced counterpoint matches the best of Palestrina and Lassus. Many of Byrd's Latin motets set penitential texts, treating Jerusalem as a metaphor for catholic England with powerfully expressive music. Joyful exuberance, however, pervades works like the madrigalian ‘Laudibus in sanctis’, as it does his virtuoso keyboard variations.