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When William Byrd left the royal court in 1594 and went to Essex to live among the relative safety of the local Catholic landowners who supported his creative efforts, he may not have imagined another nearly three decades to a life that he finally left in 1623. We now reflect on him again these 400 years later.
There are many recordings already devoted to this English master for the 2023 commemorations, and we will share many with you all.
But our friends from Stile Antico have a particularly fine example, as part of their new series entitled “The Golden Renaissance” on the Decca label. They joined us in person for two recent programs, the first dedicated to Josquin Des Prez, and the second to the recording pictured above, dedicated to Byrd.
As Kerry McCarthy (whose books on both Tallis and Byrd are to be commended) writes in the notes for this disc, the defining meditation by Byrd in his late years is the lovely English setting from that last songbook in 1611, “Retire, my soul, consider thine estate”:
“A life lived and choices made” she writes, are summed up at the end of “Retire, my soul” in “the poignant final lines, sung twice to imprint them on the ear:
Write all these down, in pale Death’s reckoning tables,
Thy days will seem but dreams, thy hopes but fables.
Spring always gives one hope, but we also always remember those who have left us even as new flowers bloom. As Byrd himself wrote at the passing of his own beloved master Thomas Tallis, the very Muses themselves
Come down from crystal heav’ns above
to earth where sorrow dwelleth,
In mourning weeds, with tears in eyes:
Tallis is dead, and Music dies.
We have been graciously sent along some copies of the CD to make available for new members, people giving gifts, or anyone who upgrades their membership with us (such as going from Bronze to Silver level).
Kerry McCarthy reminds us that Byrd quoted the Stoic philosopher Seneca in his last collection. It is a poignant meditation for those of us of certain age:
The sun’s light is sweetest at the very moment of its setting.
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The Golden Renaissance, Part 2