New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first of this series here.
Today’s two pieces go farther back in music history than the blog has gone before: to the Renaissance (ca. 1350-1600). William Byrd(1540-1623) was one of the most prolific and best-known composers of the English Renaissance. Most of his music was liturgical, focused on voice and organ, but he also took an unusual – for the time – interest in stringed keyboard instruments.
In Byrd’s time, the piano didn’t exist. Proto-pianos first came on the scene during the Baroque era, more than a hundred years after Byrd was writing. In his time, the most common stringed keyboard was the virginal.
Organs were common at this time. The idea of creating music using a keyboard instrument attached to pipes had existed for hundreds of years. Attaching the keys to strings, though, was a relatively new technology, and Byrd was one of the first composers to seriously explore the solo capabilities of what was still a small, percussive, quite limited instrument.
Both of today’s pieces, “The Soldier’s Summons” and “The Irish March,” are part of a collection called My Lady Nevell’s Book. This is a collection of pieces for solo virginal that Byrd wrote for a patron, both in tribute and to help her learn keyboard technique. We can almost think of the collection as a very early “method book” for keyboard.
Byrd’s music is likely to make many appearances on the blog. It’s fun to play and, with its very clearly Renaissance harmonic qualities, can take us to a different time and place. I’ll give more history on Byrd and his work the next time I post his music. Meanwhile, enjoy!
As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!