William Byrd (1543-1623)

William Byrd (1543-1623) was the most important British composer until Henry Purcell. A student of Thomas Tallis, he excelled in every kind of music practiced in his time, vocal or instrumental, sacred or secular. Composing very prolifically throughout his eighty year lifetime, his music is of uneven quality, but at his best, it is of very high intellectual and emotional value. The "Ave verum corpus," a text central to Catholic worship for centuries (Byrd was a stubborn and militant Catholic during the very Protestant reign of Queen Elizabeth), relies extensively on cross-relationships, the sudden contradiction, with just one pitch, of the stability of the phrase.

©John Harbison

Back to Other Notes & Translations