Welcome! 🙂 I hope the daily music posts here on the blog are giving you a boost, in these strange and unsettling times. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, you’ll find the first one here.
Today’s post features music from the Renaissance (ca. 1350-1600), a work by English composer William Byrd. I introduced Byrd on the blog a couple of days ago, in this post, where you can also find some background about his music for solo keyboard.
As I mentioned in the earlier post, other composers of Byrd’s time didn’t have a lot of interest in the stringed keyboard instruments available to them. Many composers wrote for organ, which was a powerful, flexible instrument used all the time in sacred music. The early stringed keyboards, though – the ancestors of the piano – were small, percussive, and thought of as mainly useful for accompanying other instruments or singers. Byrd was one of the first to explore what the stringed keyboard could do on its own.
Byrd was an independent and resourceful thinker in more ways than one. He was a Catholic living in England during the reign of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. While Elizabeth brought decades of peace and prosperity to England, her reign was a dangerous time to claim loyalty to the “old” religion. Catholics were heretics and possible traitors, subject to all kinds of persecution and abuse.
Byrd refused to abandon his faith. Instead, he used his musical gifts to protect himself and his family. His skills earned him a post as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, the group of musicians who wrote and performed music for the church services the Queen and her retinue attended. While he wrote Protestant worship music to keep the Queen’s favor, he also wrote music for the Catholic Masses he and his family and friends observed secretly. All his life, Byrd maintained that delicate balance, keeping his public face as a shield while adhering strictly to his personal beliefs.
Today’s piece, “Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home,” is another excerpt from the collection My Lady Nevell’s Book. This collection of solo keyboard music was Byrd’s gift to a woman who was both a patron and a friend, and who was also very likely a Catholic sympathizer who gave Byrd and his family her support.
We’ll hear more of Byrd’s music on the blog over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy today’s recording. 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!
P.S. for those on Facebook: this coming Saturday, 4/4, I’ll be giving a short concert via Facebook Live. If you’ve been enjoying the blog, I’d love to have you tune in on my FB page on Saturday at 7 pm, for about half an hour of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin.