William Byrd, one of the greatest and most remarkable composers of the English Renaissance, died exactly 400 years ago. Byrd was able to obtain the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, whose tolerance allowed him – unusually – to compose and publish whatever he wanted, despite being a Catholic in a Protestant country. He even wrote music for the Catholic liturgy, which was theoretically illegal at the time. In 1585, in fact, he obtained permission to publish music without having to worry about possible persecution (“to imprint any and so many as they will of set songe or songes in partes, either in English, Latine… or other tongues that may serue for musicke either in Churche or chamber”). Byrd composed three Latin masses, for three, four and five voices respectively, probably in the 1590s.
Les Arts Florissants will perform the five-part mass, along with some of the most beautiful motets and polyphonic English songs. Les Arts Florissants, founded in 1979 by William Christie, is still a leading early music ensemble. Paul Agnew, who has been part of the ensemble for many years, has been its artistic co-director since 2019.
W. Byrd: Mass for five voices | Vigilate nescitis enim quando dominus veniat | La Verginella è simile alla rosa | Save me O God | Lulla lullaby | Plorans plorabit | T. Weelkes: Death hath deprived me | O mortal man
Miriam Allan, Hannah Morrison, soprano | Mélodie Ruvio, alto | Sean Clayton, tenor | Edward Grint, bass | Paul Agnew, tenor & artistic leader