Sunday in the Renaissance

Today’s post is a re-post of a piece I put up just a few days ago. I think this particular music deserves some more love. 😉 It’s also perfect for a quiet Sunday morning. 

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

Today’s piece is one of my favorites by English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623). This is one of Byrd’s folk-tune settings, in which he took a popular melody of the time and wrote a series of variations on it for solo keyboard. The song, called “The Maiden’s Song,” is gentle and contemplative, a little bittersweet. Byrd’s variations on it start out simple, and then get gradually more intricate before he returns to the original theme at the end.

I’ve posted before about Byrd’s harmonies, which can sound unusual to our ears as modern listeners because they’re based on an older tonal system. You can read more about the seven “modes” of Medieval and Renaissance music in this post. “The Maiden’s Song” also has an unusual feel to it, harmonically, because it’s in one of the modes that we don’t run into much anymore. This mode is called Mixolydian, very similar to major but with one note that sounds a little “off.” (If you have a piano or keyboard, you can hear the Mixolydian mode by playing from one G to the next G, one note at a time, using only the white keys. As you see, it’s a lot like G Major except for the F natural instead of F sharp.) Mixolydian was one of the most commonly used modes in folk music, and to our modern ears, it gives this particular piece its particularly Renaissance flavor.

As you listen, let the music take you back in history to a quieter time, with less ambient noise, clearer skies, and fresher air. See if this piece conjures up any particular images or ideas for you. 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

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The Maiden’s Song

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 piece is one of my favorites by English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623). This is one of Byrd’s folk-tune settings, in which he took a popular melody of the time and wrote a series of variations on it for solo keyboard. The song, called “The Maiden’s Song,” is gentle and contemplative, a little bittersweet. Byrd’s variations on it start out simple, and then get gradually more intricate before he returns to the original theme at the end.

I’ve posted before about Byrd’s harmonies, which can sound unusual to our ears as modern listeners because they’re based on an older tonal system. You can read more about the seven “modes” of Medieval and Renaissance music in this post. “The Maiden’s Song” also has an unusual feel to it, harmonically, because it’s in one of the modes that we don’t run into much anymore. This mode is called Mixolydian, very similar to major but with one note that sounds a little “off.” (If you have a piano or keyboard, you can hear the Mixolydian mode by playing from one G to the next G, one note at a time, using only the white keys. As you see, it’s a lot like G Major except for the F natural instead of F sharp.) Mixolydian was one of the most commonly used modes in folk music, and to our modern ears, it gives this particular piece its particularly Renaissance flavor.

As you listen, let the music take you back in history to a quieter time, with less ambient noise, clearer skies, and fresher air. See if this piece conjures up any particular images or ideas for you. 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

 

Will You Walk the Woods so Wild

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 music takes us back to the Renaissance. Over the past week or so, I’ve posted a couple of other pieces by English composer William Byrd (1540-1623). Today’s piece is a setting he did of a folk song of his time: “Will You Walk the Woods so Wild.” (Something that I think a lot of us currently in quarantine wouldn’t mind doing!)

As I wrote in my last post about Byrd, his interest in writing for solo stringed keyboard (as opposed to the organ) was unusual for his time. Most composers felt that the little stringed keyboards of the day were too limited to do more than accompany another instrument, or a singer. Byrd was convinced they had strengths of their own, and he set out to find what kinds of music would work best for them.

Dance music was an early choice for Byrd, because the little keyboards had a percussive sound and were good for maintaining a strong sense of pulse. Also, though, he quickly became interested in writing folk tune settings. In My Lady Nevell’s Book, the collection that today’s piece comes from, Byrd included many solo-keyboard arrangements of folk tunes.

A couple of notes about today’s piece. Byrd uses a theme-and-variations approach to writing “Woods So Wild.” You’ll hear the tune stated simply at the beginning. Then Byrd writes a series of variations on it where the tune becomes less and less clear, until it’s mostly just suggested by the harmony. Finally, at the end, he restates the tune clearly and strongly.

You may also notice that the harmonies in this piece strike your ear as a little unusual, or particularly “Renaissance-ish.” That’s because this old folk tune takes us back to a harmonic system that predates the one we’re used to. As modern listeners, we’re used to music that comes mainly in two “flavors”: major (bright/warm/happy) and minor (dark/sad). During the Renaissance, though, music “came in” seven different flavors called modes. Without getting into too much detail, each mode to our ears will sound very similar to major or minor, but as if there’s something a little off about it, maybe a single wrong note.

In the case of “Woods So Wild,” we’re hearing the mode called Lydian, which was very popular in folk music. Lydian mode is very close to major, but has a single note’s difference from a normal major scale. The result is a harmony that sounds unusual to us, and definitely evocative of an older time.

The words to the original folk song have been lost to history. As you listen, if you’d like, imagine what the song was about. Who is the singer speaking to? Is the message of the song cheerful or plaintive, or does it capture a different mood for you entirely? 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!

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Renaissance Sunday

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 by English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1540-1623), who’s appeared on the blog a couple of times (you can read more about him here). Byrd was unusual, in his time, for his interest in writing for the solo stringed keyboard. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the piano as we know it didn’t exist in Byrd’s time: he was writing for a small, quiet instrument called the virginal, which had a limited range, very little projection ability, and a metallic percussive sound. Most of Byrd’s fellow composers saw the virginal as an accompaniment instrument only: it was useful for giving backup to singers or other instruments, but wasn’t interesting enough to stand alone.

Byrd felt the instrument had hidden capabilities. The collection that today’s pieces come from, My Ladye Nevell’s Booke, was a tribute that Byrd put together for a friend and patron, but it was also a chance for him to explore all the possibilities of writing for solo stringed keyboard. He found that dances, in particular, worked well on the instrument, and he wrote a series of dance-inspired pieces that weren’t meant for a ballroom, but only to be listened to and enjoyed.

In My Ladye Nevell’s Booke, Byrd wrote a set of ten of paired dances to explore what the instrument could do with that form. The ten pairings each include a pavane and a galliard, both very popular in the Renaissance. The pavane is a stately, courtly dance, moderate in tempo and with a pattern of four beats to the measure. The galliard, in contrast, is a country dance, quicker and lighter and with a striking five-beat pattern: one-two-three one-two. To our 21st century ears, it has an especially strong Renaissance flavor. It’s easy to imagine a ballroom of the time, men in doublets and ruffs and women in empire-waisted gowns.

These pieces felt especially appropriate for a Sunday morning. If you celebrate Easter, I wish you a joyous and peaceful day! 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: today, Sunday 4/12, I’m going to do a short FB Live performance at 4:30 pm EST, with music by Scarlatti, Brahms, Mozart, and Byrd. If some more music would brighten your day, I’d love to “see” you there!

 

Tip Jar (no pressure!):

If you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help support it, please consider clicking on the link below to leave me a tip. You’ll choose your own payment amount and pay securely through PayPal’s platform. As always, thanks for visiting!

https://www.paypal.com/paypalme2/krisfaatz

Byrd in Hand

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.