William Byrd was an English Renaissance composer, writing during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Over the years movements of his Mass for Four Voices have become a staple in the Dulces Voces repertoire. We have rarely performed the entire work, so this concert will be a treat for us.
While Byrd composed during the Elizabethan period, the mass itself has characteristics of an earlier Tudor style. Some scholars assert the Mass for Four Voices was modeled after John Taverner’s (c. 1490 – 1545) Mean Mass. Byrd’s Mass peppers semi-choir sections throughout the work. Those sections are delicate confections that are both satisfying to sing and hear. Byrd composed three settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, for four, three, and five voices. The editions were undated, did not name the printer, and were thin to allow them to be concealed. Bibliographic analysis suggests these works were publish in the 1590s, a time when many Catholics feared for their lives, and merely possessing the books would be dangerous. Given the history, it is possible Byrd’s mass was written in an earlier style to further conceal the origin of the composition.
The performance below (not Dulces Voces) is the Gloria movement of the Mass for Four Voices.