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Posts Tagged ‘motets

Composer Biography: Cristóbal de Morales (c1500-1553)

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Cristóbal de Morales is considered by many to be the greatest Spanish composer before Tomas Luis de Victoria (c1548-1611, biography coming soon). In fact, if you only know two Spanish composers’ names, those are likely to be the two.

Morales’ music has a strong Franco-Flemish flavor to it (for composers of this ilk, check out those listed on my website). That’s because, until his abdication in 1555, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), King of Spain, kept a Flemish chapel. Apart from 10 years in Papal service where Morales would also have been exposed to the Flemish traditions, he spent his whole professional life in Andalusa, where the Franco-Flemish influence was strong (Andalusa is the region that covers nearly the whole bottom third of the Iberian Peninsula.)

Like the other court musicians, Morales followed the Netherlandish style. Of his 22 Masses, two are based on the French motet L’homme arme (anonymous) and others are modeled on motets by Franco-Flemish composers Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560), Jean Mouton (c1459-1522), Jean Richafort (c1480-c1547), Philippe Verdelot (c1480-c1530), and Josquin des Prez (c1440-1521). Only two of Morales’ Masses are based on Spanish villancicos. (More about those later.)

Morales is perhaps most Spanish in his use of mystical emotions at the heart of such motets as Emendemus in melius (one of my very favorite motets) and O crux, ave. He didn’t write much secular music; only a handful of pieces with Italian and Spanish text survive.

In 1526, Charles V’s wife, Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539), organized a chapel of Spanish and Portuguese musicians, and Morales was among the instrumentalists of this group. Philip II (1527-1598) supported the group when he became regent of Spain in 1543. These musicians were the real innovators of the time and included blind organist Antonio de Cabezon (c1500-1566), who was one of its original members; clavichordist Francisco de Soto (c1500-1563), who arrived shortly after Cabezon; and Luis de Narvaez (d. after 1555), who played the vihuela de mano (a Spanish lute) and was recruited by Philip II.

Morales’ works were among the first European compositions performed in the New World (which had only been “discovered” a decade before his birth), along with those of his student Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), Tomas Victoria (c1548-1611), and Palestrina (c1525-1594).

Other musicians liked Morales’ music and made him famous across Europe and in Mexico. His work stayed popular all the way to the 18th century, when he was praised as the papal chapel’s most important composer after Josquin and Palestrina by music biographer Andrea Adami da Bolsena (1663-1772), who was a castrato and master of the papal choir in 1700.

Morales was born in Seville, the largest city and capital of Andalusia, a region in southern Spain. He received his education in the classics and in music there, studying with some of the foremost composers of his time.

There is another Cristobal de Morales (dates unavailable), perhaps Morales’ father, who sang for the third Duke of Medina Sidonia (Juan Alfonso Perez de Guzman, 1464-1507) in 1504, when Morales would have been a young child. Morales had a sister who married in 1530, by which time, their father had died. I didn’t find any information about his mother.

It’s possible that Morales had siblings and uncles all around him. Alonso de Morales (dates unavailable) was treasurer of the Seville Cathedral in 1503; Francisco de Morales (d.1505), was canon of the Cathedral; and Diego de Morales (dates unavailable) was the Cathedral notary in 1525. Some of these gentlemen could be his father, uncles, or cousins and others might be siblings.

Earlier Spanish popes (Calixtus III of the 15th century and Alexander VI of the 16th) from the notorious Borja family employed Spanish singers in their chapel choirs, so it’s not surprising that Morales found his way to Rome. There were quite a few non-Italian musicians and composers there at the time. (There were few Italian composers during this period, as it happens.)

In 1522, Morales went to Rome three times to be the papal organist. In 1526, he was appointed maestro de capilla of both Avila and Plasencia Cathedrals and he stayed at both until 1531. In 1531, he resigned and went twice more to Rome in 1534. By 1535, he’d moved to Rome to be a singer in the papal chapel choir under the Italian Pope Paul III (1458-1549), who was particularly partial to Spanish singers. Morales stayed in Rome until 1545. It’s thought that he was a tenor.

Morales obtained leave to return to Spain in 1540, although it isn’t known why. He came right back to Rome, and in 1545, when he sought employment outside the papal choir but still in Italy, he had no luck. He tried the emperor (Charles V) and Cosimo I de Medici (1519-1574) without a nibble. So he returned to Spain, where he finagled a series of posts. He alienated employers. There was always something not-quite-right about the positions he held and he had difficulty keeping them. He’s said to have been egotistical and short-tempered and he made severe demands on the singers in his employ.

Finally, in 1545, he became maestro de capilla at Toledo and left the employ of the pope for good. He stayed until 1547 when he fell ill and renounced his position. The next year, he went to Marchena (near Seville), back in Andalusa, where he served the Dukes of Aros and Malaga until 1551.

In 1551, he became maestro de capilla at Malaga Cathedral. In 1553, he applied for the maestro de capilla position at the Toledo Cathedral, but he died in Marchena before an offer could be made.

Morales was the first Spanish composer who reached international renown. His works were widely distributed in Europe and the New World. Music writers and theorists in the following hundred years considered his to be among the most perfect music of the time.

Morales’ works are almost all liturgical, including over 22 Masses, 18 Magnificats, 11 hymns, at least five Lamentations (one of which survives in a single manuscript in Mexico), and over 100 motets. Two of his Masses are Requiems. All of his music is vocal, although instruments might have been used as accompaniment. He probably wrote Spanish secular songs and intabulations (a kind of notation specific to stringed instruments), but few remain.

He himself regarded his own Masses highly, supervising their publication personally and writing more of them than any other Spaniard of the period or any other polyphonist of his generation. The Masses illustrate his superb contrapuntal technique. His works are more refined than Josquin des Prez’s (c1440-1521) and look ahead to Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), who based a Mass on Morales’ motet O sacrum convivium.

Morales is the only Spanish composer who didn’t write predominantly parody Masses (basing them on a motet) although his other work included parodies. He had his own discerning parody technique, wherein he enriched and transformed his own motet models.

His 22 Masses include both cantus firmus (with the chant melody sung slowly in the tenor line) and parody styles. Six are based on Gregorian chant and eight are parodies, including one for six voices based on the famous chanson Mille regrets, which is attributed to Josquin. This melody is arranged so that it’s clearly audible in every movement, usually in the highest voice, and giving the work considerable stylistic and motivic unity.

He also wrote two Masses, one for four voices and one for five, on the famous L’homme arme tune, which was frequently set by composers in the late 15th and 16th century. The four-voice Mass uses the tune as a cantus firmus, keeping the melody in the tenor line, and the five-voice Mass treats it more freely, moving it from one voice to another.

He also wrote a Missa pro defunctis, which is a requiem Mass. It may have been his last work, as it seems to be unfinished. It’s written through to the end, but the editing aspect is incomplete.

Masses from this period are often based on motets and Gregorian melodies. Morales offers eight exceptions based them on Spanish songs. In one, he has the Spanish words sung to the main melody and liturgical (Latin) text in the other voices. Some of his other Masses incorporate extraneous texts in the way followed by Guillaume Dufay (c1400-1474) and other composers from the same period and after. He also follows the old style of leaving the cantus firmus intact and lets it permeate all of the voices.

Morales treats Gregorian melodies with an almost severe regard for the preservation of their essential contours. He embellishes sparingly, providing the melodies with rather grave settings that reveal his personality. He often omits the melismatic passages from the chant, which emphasizes his sober style. He nearly always ends his themes on the same note as the Gregorian version, which wasn’t the fashion of the period but had music theory historical context. Rather than writing a polyphonic line of melody, he occasionally gave the bass line a progression in fourths and fifths, which sounds like a chordal bass line to modern ears.

His two Masses for the dead and Officium defunctorum are the most extreme examples of Morales’ sober style. He had a thorough command of early 16th century continental techniques and his style is better compared to Franco-Flemish composers Josquin, Nicolas Gombert (c1495-c1560), and Jacob Clemens non Papa (c1510-1556) than to his Spanish contemporaries. He favored cross-rhythms, conflicting rhythms, melodic (but not harmonic) sequence and repetition, harmonic cross-relations, systematic use of consecutives and occasionally daring use of harmony.

The Magnificats may be his master works and are the most frequently performed of his compositions today. They’re permeated throughout by Gregorian cantus firmus.

His motets are intense and personal, often using a cantus firmus with a separate text that glosses or alludes to the principal one. He often used a Gregorian chant associated with the text as a melodic point of departure (such as in Puer natus est) or as an ostinato figure (a phrase frequently repeated in the same voice) such as the five-voice Tu es petrus, but he seldom borrowed entire melodies.

The texture of the motets is characterized by free imitation and with exceptional use of homophonic sections (where one voice predominates) to stress important words or portions of text. He uses alternation of chant verses with polyphonic verses, like those found in a collection of his Magnificats published in 1545 in Venice. You can also find this alternation in his Salve Regina motet, developed by means of imitation in pairs.

An early motet for six voices, Jubilate Deo, was written for the peace conference arranged by Pope Paul III (1468-1549) and held in 1538 between Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain (1500-1558) and King Francis I of France (1494-1547). In it, the high voice sings “gaudeamus” over and over to the notes of the Gregorian introit Gaudeamus omnes. He lets one part comment on the text of the other parts in another ceremonial motet, composed to celebrate the elevation of Ippolito d’Este (1479-1520) to the cardinalate in 1539.

He uses this same device with striking dramatic effect in Emendemus in melius, which combines the four-part setting of a responsory for Ash Wednesday with six statements of a modified chant to the words used by the priest while sprinkling ashes on the penitents. “Remember man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.” This is one of my favorite motets, not only my favorite of Morales’.

His style has a lot in common with other middle Renaissance works from the Iberian Peninsula, such as a preference for harmony in the form of fourths or fifths in the lower voices, and free use of harmonic cross-relations. These techniques were also popular during the same period in England with composers like Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585).

Distinctive Morales characteristics include rhythmic freedom, such as occasional three-against-four polyrhythms and cross-rhythms, where a voice sings in a rhythm that adheres to the text but ignores the meter prevailing in other voices. Late in life, he wrote in a sober, more heavily homophonic style (where one voice predominates, like in modern SATB music where most of the voices provide supporting harmonies to the main melody), but he was always a careful craftsman who considered the expression and understandability of the text to be his highest artistic goal.

Another thing Morales does that’s interesting is to use silence to create a dramatic moment. This is especially obvious in his Parce milo Domine (part of his Office for the Dead in four voices).

There are too many excellent recordings to enumerate here, and I recommend that you do a little looking for some of them, at least.

Sources:

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W> Norton & Co., New York., 2010.

“The Pelican History of Music, Part 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1978.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton & David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

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Composer Biography: Peter Philips (c1560-1628)

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(Also Peter Philipps, Peter Phillips, Pierre Philippe, Pietro Philippi, and Petrus Philippus)

Peter Philips, although he spent most of his life in Europe, was one of the biggest names in English music. He was an organist and a Catholic priest, and his work could be heard from Rome to London to Brussels, and beyond.

He was one of the great keyboard virtuosos of his time, and transcribed or arranged several Italian motets and madrigals by Orlando Lassus (1532-1594), Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (c1525-1594), and Giulio Caccini (1551-1618). Some of his keyboard works are found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and he wrote many sacred choral works as well.

He was possibly born in London, although there are stories that he came from Devonshire. Nothing is known about his family, but they weren’t particularly wealthy. They were particularly Catholic, and that would color Philips’ life.

When first we hear of him, Philips was a choirboy at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1574, serving under Sebastian Westcot (d.1582), who had also trained William Byrd 20 years earlier. Philips must have been close to Westcot, as he stayed at the older man’s house until Westcot died. He was named as a beneficiary in Westcot’s will.

He was possibly one of William Byrd’s students, along with Thomas Morley (c1557-1602) and Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), and John Bull (c1562-1628).

That same year (1582), Philips had to emigrate because he was Catholic. He landed in Flanders, Europe’s third biggest musical center (after Rome and Paris). He stayed for a bit, and then headed out for Rome, the center of both Catholicism and music. There, he was in the service of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), with whom he stayed for three years. At the same time, he was organist at the English Jesuit College in Rome from 1582-1585.

In 1585, he met Thomas, third Baron Paget (c1544-1590) and became a court musician for him instead. The two left Rome, traveling over the next few years to Genoa, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, and finally Antwerp, where Philips settled in 1590, when Paget died.

After he settled, Philips married and gained a precarious living by teaching the virginal to children. In 1593, he went to Amsterdam to see and hear Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), whose reputation was already huge. On his way home from that exciting visit, he was denounced by another Englishman for conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. He was temporarily jailed at The Hague, where he composed both the pavan and galliard Doloroso that are in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (more on that later). He was soon freed for lack of proof.

When he returned to Brussels, Philips was employed as organist in the chapel of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, who’d been appointed governor of the Low Countries in 1595, two years earlier.

After Philips’ wife and child died, he was ordained as a priest in 1601 or so, and became canon at Soignies in 1610. He also became a canon at Beithune in 1622 or 1623. These were meager livings, but at least he knew that he had a regular income.

In his new position at Albert VII’s court, he met the best musicians of the time, including Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), who visited the Low Countries between 1601 and 1608, and John Bull (c1562-1628), who had also fled England but for different reasons: he’d been charged with adultery.

Philips’ was close to fellow organist Peter Cornet (c1575-1633), who worked for the Archduchess Isabella, wife of Philips’ employer.

He wasn’t very well known in England during his lifetime, but he was famous in northern Europe as a fine organist and versatile composer. He’s considered second only to William Byrd as the most published English compose of his day. His music for keyboards and instrumental ensembles are in the traditional English style, and his Italian madrigals including some for double choir (in three books, collected from 1596-1603) and his motets (five books, from 1612-1628), show continental style and influence, especially Roman.

Philips was important in bringing the English musical style to the Continent and he was probably the most famous English composer of his day in Northern Europe.

Philips composed Masses, hundreds of motets (sacred madrigals), other sacred works, madrigals (secular motets), pieces for viols, and27 pieces for virginal. His religious music was entirely meant for Catholic use, unlike that of Catholics in England, who either composed for Anglican services or secretly composed for Catholic uses (see composer biographies on William Byrd and Thomas Tallis).

He produced three books of madrigals, two books of choral motets, three books of concertato motets (instrumental) of one-to-three voices with continuo accompaniment, a book of Litanies (a form of musical prayer in both Jewish and Christian traditions), and a book of bicinia (pedagogical music in two parts) with French texts.

His keyboard music was preserved in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

His madrigals (secular vocal music) belong to a conservative Italian tradition, probably thanks to his training in Rome. He uses colorful textures and sonorities, although his instrumental motets show him keeping up with the latest trends and styles. His keyboard music includes transcriptions and reworking of well-known Italian madrigals, one of which is Giulo Romola Caccini’s (15510-1618) monody (chant) Amarilli.

His first set of Cantiones sacre (in five voices) was printed by Pierre Phalese the Younger (dates unknown) in 1612, followed in 1613 by a second set for double chorus. Later publications contained sacred works for two and three voices, as well as some for solo with basso continuo and a set of Litanies (musical prayer, petitions mostly) to the Blessed Virgin in four to nine voices, which appeared between 1613-1633 (there is one source that says that Philips died in 1633 rather than 1628, but it’s more likely that the pieces were published posthumously).

He put together one book, called Les Rossignols spirituels, that was an arrangement of popular melodies adapted to sacred texts, in 1616.

He used a lot of different techniques, like the imitation (see Composer Biography: Johannes Ciconia), in a variety of ways, exhibiting considerable freedom, and modifying and combining different forms with imagination and skill. Like Flemish composer Orlando Lassus (1532-1594), he often imitated a rhythmic pattern or a melodic contour throughout a piece.

Philips’ Alma Redemptoris Mater, a richly polyphonic work, opens with a motif that’s imitated by three voices and then inverted by the other two voices. After each voice has sung the motif once, that voice presents the motif in a new form, perhaps borrowing a motif from one of the other voices.

His Elegi abjectus, esse uses real imitation in the opening among three voices. A fourth voice offers a more tonal answer, and the alto sings freely, disregarding the motif altogether. The motif is presented without interruption by the tenor; the other three voices break the motif with silence.

Another piece, Ascendit Deus, is simpler, with broken major triads in some sections, bright melismas in others, and a rousing chordal final “alleluia” section. The setting for the words “et Dominus” uses imitation in all its forms: a real answer, a tonal answer, imitation by inversion, and imitation of rhythmic patterns.

Philips draws on chant for Pater Noster, which uses the old cantus firmus style (with the chant sung slowly in the tenor line while the other parts trip merrily around it) and for his Ave Maria, Regina coeli, and Salve Regina, which use the paraphrase technique. He particularly shows his expertise with madrigals in the Salve Regina.

His earliest surviving piece is a pavan dated 1580, that’s in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. It was the subject of many variations by Dutchman Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), and Thomas Morley (c1557-1602), and John Dowland (1563-1626), both British.

The compiler of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, Francis Tregian the Younger, also a Catholic, knew Philips from the court of Brussels in 1603. Tregian may have been responsible for importing Philips’ works to England.

Flemish composer Andreas Pevernage (c1542-1591) collected madrigals and dedicated one of his collections to Philips, who had five pieces in the book. The madrigal had taken such firm root in England by then that it was second only to Italy in output.

Philips died in 1628, probably in Brussels, and was buried there.

Sources:

“A Dictionary of Early Music; From the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome and Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1994.

“The New Grove High Renaissance Masters,” by Jeremy Noble, Gustave Reese, Lewis Lockwood, James Harr, Joseph Kerman, Robert Stevenson. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1984.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1959.

Composer Biography: Antoine Brumel (c1460-c1515)

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Antoine Brumel was a French composer, and probably the first of the Franco-Flemish school to be from France. Most of the Franco-Flemish composers were from the lowlands area that is now Belgium and the Netherlands, once called Flanders.

When polyphony (independently composed lines rather than composed around chords) was a new thing, just evolving from homophony (unison chant), Brumel was the first to apply this new technique to the psalms that were sung at every Mass. Polyphony had gained in importance in the 13th and 14th centuries, but was mostly used for secular music. Guillaume Machaut (c1300-1377) was the first to write the Ordinaries of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the Ite, misse est) as polyphony, and slowly, the Propers (the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, Communion, Marian antiphons, and later, the Tract) were added. Psalms were—and are—a common choice for text for the Ordinaries, so that Brumel was the first to do this is an important accomplishment.

It’s not known where Brumel was born, although some music historians say that he was born west of Chartres, possibly in the little town of Brunelles. This puts him in the Netherlands, but just across the border that would soon move to make him French.

His name is prominent among the handful of composers who rank after Josquin de Prez (c1440-1521) as the most eminent masters of the late 15th century and early 16th centuries. You’ve probably heard Brumel’s music—or music influenced by him—whether you know it or not.

Records show Brumel as a singer at Notre Dame in Chartres from 1483 until 1486. He became Master of the Innocents (children’s choirmaster) at St. Peter’s in Geneva in 1486 and stayed there until 1492. In 1497, he was installed as a canon at Laon Cathedral, and the following year, he took charge of the choirboys at Notre Dame in Paris. There he stayed until 1500.

For the next two years, Brumel was a singer at the Duke of Savoy’s Court in Chambery and from 1506 to 1510, he acted as maestro di cappel to Alfonso I d’Este (1476-1534) in Ferrara, replacing Jacob Obrecht (c1457-1505, blog post to come), who’d died of the plague the previous year. The post was meant to be for life, but that chapel was disbanded in 1510. Brumel stayed on in Italy as part of the Franco-Flemish musical invasion and he’s connected with both Faenza and Mantua, where he probably died in 1512 or thereabout, although there are stories of him dying in Ferrara as late as 1520.

He wrote at least one piece after he was dismissed from Alfonso I’s court, the Missa de beata virgine. In 1513, Brumel is mentioned in a treatise by Vincenzo Galilei (c1520-1591 and famous astronomer Gallileo’s father) as one of a group of composers who met with Pope Leo X (1475-1521). Because Vincenzo Galilei didn’t write his treatise for more than two decades after the event and hadn’t been there himself, it’s also possible that Brumel wasn’t there at all, one reason for his absence being that he was already dead by then.

Brumel was renowned on the musical scene during his lifetime and his music was performed far from where he lived. Josquin borrowed two voices from Brumel’s three-part motet and based his own piece, Missa Mater patris on it. Josquin’s Agnus Dei movement consists of the entire text from Brumel’s motet, plus two new voices. Josquin did this in some of his secular music as well, but it’s unusual to find Josquin using someone else’s work so literally right at the most climactic section of the Mass.

Brumel had a whole volume of his Masses published by Pandolfo Petrucci (1452-1512), like both Josquin and Obrecht, and his music appears peppered all over various manuscripts and collections of the period.

Musicological historian Glareanus said that Brumel excelled more through industry than natural gifts, but his music is truly lovely, so Glareanus was just a poor sport. You should listen for yourself and see what yObrechtou think. (Chanticleer put out an excellent album of Brumel’s music, which is how I first heard his works.)

Glareanus’ attitude might have been sour only because there was so much competition. Brumel was active at the same time as Jacob Obrecht (c1457-1505, blog post to come), Alexander Agricola (1446-1506, blog post to come), Heinrich Isaac (c1450-1517, blog post to come), Loyset Compere (c1445-1518, blog post to come), Josquin, Pierre de la Rue (c1452-1518, blog post to come), and Jean Mouton (c1459-1522), who are considered the brightest lights in a particularly stellar time.

When Johannes Ockeghem died, Brumel was one of those called upon by Guillaume Cretin (c1460-1525, a poet) to compose a lamentation in Ockeghem’s honor.

Brumel was primarily a composer of sacred music, notably of Masses. There are twelve Masses and three Magnifacats that survive complete. His works can be divided into three stylistic groups: those with cantus firmus (the chant melody) underlying the tenor voice, those exhibiting greater rhythmic regularity and a closer relationship between text and melody in all parts, and those that are condensed and brief.

He also wrote 29 motets (a sacred version of the madrigal), many of which use cantus firmus, sometimes with an altered or completely different text (these were usually quotations from the Bible, so this straying was rare and notable), and are in a flowing and rhythmically interesting style. His Sicut lilium is one of these, and exhibits an attractive simplicity that suggests influence by Italian composers.

Sometimes Brumel embellishes and other times he simplifies the underlying chant melodies for his sacred pieces. He occasionally uses cantus firmus with the elongated notes in the tenor, and other times, it’s paraphrased in the superius (highest) voice only. In yet other pieces, the chant is paraphrased in both the tenor and the superius, and occasionally, it’s in all the voices, in imitation (see Johannes Ciconia for more about imitation).

Brumel excelled at a style called paraphrase, where the melody of the chant, instead of being in the tenor, is in the topmost voice. Guillaume Dufay was probably the first to use paraphrase in a Mass setting (listen to Ave regina coelorum, written between 1463 and 1474 for a good example), and other composers were quick to follow. Brumel also used bits of his own motets in his Masses, foreshadowing the parody technique (see Bartholomeo da Bologna for more about parody). By the 1470s or 1480s, Masses started appearing that had the paraphrase in more than one voice, such as those by Johannes Martini (c1440-c1498).

Brumel was an important part of the change from writing independent, parallel lines of polyphony (where a singer could get sick or die of the plague or something, and the piece still sounded good with the part missing) to writing dependent, chordal, and simultaneous lines (where all the singers had to show up for work or the piece fell apart). His earlier works (before 1500) use the cantus firmus or a similar style of polyphony. His later works (after 1500) line up into more chord-like progressions, which included less melodically independent lines that served mainly to fill in a part of the chord. (This is very common today, with the melody in the soprano line and the other parts forming chords that support the melody.)

Brumel also used the parody technique, made popular by Bartholomeo da Bologna, wherein the source material appears elaborately altered and in other voices than the tenor. He also used paired imitation, like Josquin did, but more freely than any previous composer.

He wrote quite a few motets, chansons, and some instrumental music. His earlier pieces have irregular lines and rhythmic complexity, like those of Ockeghem, and the later ones use the smooth imitative polyphony of Josquin’s style and homophonic textures of the Italian composers of the time, such as Bartolomeo Tromboncino (c1470-1535), who was in Ferrara at the same time as Brumel.

Brumel was notable for his cleverness, playing with melodies and accompaniment. For instance, the tenor line of his James que la ne peut ester chanson uses the opening phrase of “Je ne vis oncques” twice; first forward and then backward.

Brumel’s motet Regina coeli was a clear paraphrase of the Marian antiphon by the same name. It has the melody in the tenor, but it’s also found in the other voices. He uses the same paraphrase and chant permeation of the texture in his motet Lauda Sion, in which he wrote polyphony only for the odd-numbered verses.

Brumel’s Laudate Dominum is one of the earliest motet settings of a psalm that can be given an approximate date. Although printer Ottaviano Petrucci (1466-1539) included Josquin’s psalm Memor esto in the same publication of 1514, Brumel’s piece can be traced back to 1507, the date on the Capella Sistina 42 manuscript.

Brumel and Josquin clearly had a healthy working relationship. Josquin based his own Mass on Brumel’s motet Mater Patris, and Brumel’s short and simple motet Sicut lilium has clear phrases that resemble Josquin’s Planxit autem David. Josquin wasn’t the only one to borrow from Brumel. Ockeghem’s Fors seulement l’attente has a tenor that is attributed both to Brumel and to Agricola, but is most likely from Brumel, based on dates.

Brumel’s secular works frequently use pre-existing melodies. His four part secular pieces have texts but those in three parts are purely instrumental. Most are chansons. You have to keep in mind that writing in four voices was a new thing. And writing in more voices was considerably rarer.

Brumel wrote a textless vocal piece in eight voices that is sung with each part in a different mode. (To learn about modes, read Musical Mode, Part 1s: Church Modes). Although the modes are simpler than modern key signatures and scales (no sharps at all and only one possible flat—B), it must have sounded like the various parts were being pushed and pulled by the other parts. This interesting concept didn’t catch on. (I didn’t find the name of this piece, but I’ll keep looking.)

Probably the pinnacle of Brumel’s accomplishment was a twelve-part Mass, Et ecce terrae motus. You have to realize what an achievement that was—most pieces at the time were written in two or three voices. Later, Thomas Tallis would write my favorite piece (Spem in alium) in 40 voices, a feat that couldn’t ever have been had Brumel and his peers not pushed the edges of tradition.

Brumel’s Missa de Beata Virgine and Josquin’s version of the same piece use different chants in their Sanctus and Agnus Dei movements—Brumel’s was based on Gregorian Mass IX and XVII respectively, and Josquin’s was based on IV. Brumel’s choice was from the Medicean edition of the chant, which is an interesting political tidbit. The Medici family was rich and powerful, as you probably already know. The rest of Brumel’s Masses use the same Mass movements as the chants they’re based on

It’s possible that Brumel wrote his Missa de Beata Virgine in competition with Josquin—you have to listen to both to decide who won for yourself. Generally speaking, Brumel’s Masses are conspicuous for their melodiousness and euphony and this particular work was his most popular during his lifetime, as recorded by Glareanus.

The rest of his Masses were in four voices. He often wrote simple note-against-note counterpoint, which is especially conspicuous in his Missa de Dringhs, (no one seems to know what that last word means, but it’s thought to be Greek. The Mass is in Latin). He used parallel thirds and sixths in the Benedictus movement and other pieces, so that may have been a popular sound (it’s strange sounding to modern ears) or just something he was experimenting with.

The Mass called O quam suavis is lost. It has only a few surviving movements, based on an antiphon by the same name. Another untitled Mass uses different source materials for each section. It was unusual for the chant from one part of the Ordinary of the Mass (the pieces that change with the days of the liturgical calendar) to be used in a polyphonic setting for another. This is probably where Brumel got the idea of setting a psalm to polyphony.

In his Mass Je n’ay dueil, which survives under the designation Missa Festiva, is based on Agricola’s chanson by the same name. Brumel’s Missa Pro defunctis is notable for being the first requiem Mass to include a polyphonic setting of the Dies Irae. It’s one of the earliest surviving requiems, with only Ockeghem’s being earlier.

One of Bumel’s distinctive styles is that he often used quick syllables to form chords, which anticipated the madrigal style that developed by the end of the 16th century. He was particularly fond of using this technique during the Credo sections of his Masses. Credos have the longest texts, which can make them very long, and using this style helped keep the movement the same length as the others in the Mass.

Quite a few notable composers wrote pieces commemorating Brumel after his death.

Jachet Brumel (no dates available), was an organist for the Ferrara court in 1543, and is presumed to have been Antoine’s son. I found no mention of a wife or other children.

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton, New York, 1994.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1974.

“A Dictionary of Early Music, from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome & Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerard Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.

“The Pelican History of Music, Volume 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973.

“Music in the Renaissance,” by Gustave Reese. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1959.

Composer Biography: William Byrd (1543-1623)

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This post also appears in a slightly less musician-centric form as a guest post on http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/ on October 30, 2103.

You know how some people relate best to their parents’ generation? William Byrd was like that, being very much an Elizabethan figure (she reigned from 1558-1603), despite composing well into James I’s reign (1603-1625). His music and affinities belonged more to Edmund Spenser’s (c1552-1599) time than to that of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) or Francis Bacon (1561-1626), even though they were contemporaries. Byrd was firmly part of the group that defined Elizabethan culture, and it was his musical innovations that shaped what would become known as the English sound.

Byrd’s motets, the English version of the Italian madrigal, are the epitome of High Renaissance style. He also took the disheveled condition of English song in the1560s and pulled it together to produce a rich and extensive repertoire of songs for consorts, a form that Byrd took seriously and that had no true imitators. (For more on consorts, see my posts on the vielle, the recorder, and the cornetto.) He influenced lute songs with his consort pieces, and these evolved into what would become a distinctively English anthem form, Byrd’s most lasting legacy in English music.

His works for the virginal (a harpsichord-like keyboard instrument) transformed it from a parlor toy into an instrument of power and beauty. Byrd changed the direction of keyboard music, making it possible for later lights to shine, such as Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Frederic Chopin (1810-1949)—especially after the invention of the piano in 1770 or so.

Byrd’s direct impact on English composition can be compared to that of Shakespeare’s influence on the theater. Thomas Morley (c1557-1602) and Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) were his pupils, and possibly Peter Philips (c1560-1628), Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), and John Bull (c1562-1628). These, if you hadn’t guessed, are the royalty of English music during the Renaissance.

Byrd’s date of birth is approximated based on his 1622 will, when he wrote that he was in his 80th year. He probably grew up in Lincoln because his first professional appointment was there, but there are no birth records to verify it. Byrd was a common surname in Lincoln around that time.

Several musicians named Byrd appear in mid-century London records, and Thomas Byrd (dates not available), a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in the 1540s and 1550s, may well have been his father (and if true, his mother‘s name was Margery). There are some compositions ascribed to Thomas and some just to “birdie;” Thomas wasn’t really known for his compositions, though, not the way William would be.

A Fettered Brilliance                                                             

He must have spent some of his formative years in London because he was Thomas Tallis’ pupil in 1575, or so said another Tallis student, courtier and amateur composer Sir Ferdinando Richardson (c1558-1618). Byrd grew up during Mary Tudor’s short reign, perhaps even in her Chapel Royal, and his early works were influenced by the big composers that had come before and whose music was still performed at court, including Robert Fayrfax (1461-1521) and John Taverner (1495-1545).

It’s probable that some of Byrd’s surviving compositions are from his teens. Three of the motets attributed to him are for the Sarum liturgy (an English interpretation of the Roman rite started in the 11th century, reinterpreted for the Anglican church in the 16th century, and ended during Mary Tudor’s reign), and indicate that he was composing before the death of Queen Mary, when he was 16 years old.

In 1558, Elizabeth became Queen of England, and the attitude toward Catholics changed. Although Elizabeth was fond of her two resident Catholic composers in the Chapel Royal, Byrd and Thomas Tallis, they weren’t allowed to openly practice their religion, and she wanted music composed that suited the new Church of England’s very British sensibilities.

In 1563, Byrd succeeded Robert Parsons (c1535-1572) as organist of Lincolnshire Cathedral (note that Parsons was not old enough to retire and he died by drowning rather than illness—there’s probably a good story there). Byrd was given a larger salary than usual as Master of the Choristers at Lincolnshire Cathedral and he lived for free at the rectory at Hainton, in Lincolnshire.

During his tenure at Lincoln, he experimented with a lot of different styles, forms, and genres. His idols were ThomasTallis (c1505-1585), Christopher Tye (c1505-c1572), John Redford (d1547), Robert White (c1538-1674), Robert Parsons (c1535-1572), William Hunnis (d1597), and later, the emigrant composers Philip van Wilder (Netherlander, 1500-1554) and Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (Italian, 1543-1588). All served as models, and some suggested ideas, techniques, textures, or ground plans (somewhat like today’s bass chord progressions), and some provided material that Byrd used as starting points. In 1583 and 1584, Byrd had a musical exchange of motets with Flemish composer Philippe de Monte (1521-1603), where one supplied lyrics or melody, and the other responded with the rest.

Byrd married Juliana Birley (d. c1586) in 1568 at St. Margaret’s-in-the-Close in Lincoln. They had seven children: Christopher (1569-1615), Elizabeth (c1572- ?), Rachel (c1573- ?), Mary and Catherine (with no known dates), and twins Thomas and Edward (c1576-after 1651). Thomas was named after his godfather Thomas Tallis (or possibly William’s father) and was the only one of Byrd’s children to become a musician. After Juliana’s death, Byrd remarried a woman named Ellen (no known dates or surname). It’s possible that Mary and Catherine were products of the second marriage, as their dates are not recorded.

While at Lincoln, Byrd wrote most of his English liturgical music, although relatively little polyphony was required there. It looks, in fact, like he was trying to master all the genres, perhaps to get a better job in London. It worked.

Byrd was sworn in as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1570, but he didn’t move to London until 1572, when the accidental drowning death of Robert Parsons left an opening in the Chapel’s residencies. In 1573, after he’d left for London and his successor had been appointed (at a lower salary), the Lincolnshire chapter agreed, under pressure from certain councilors of the Queen, to continue paying Byrd on the condition that he continue sending musical compositions for their use. He received a quarter of his former salary (in addition to his Chapel Royal salary) until 1581.

In London, Byrd’s success was undeniable. For the next two decades, his name appears in relation to all kinds of important and powerful people. Elizabethan lords figure among the dedicatees for his various publications, and some were known to intercede on his behalf occasionally.

Around 1573 or 1574, he rented Battails Hall in Stapleford Abbots in Essex from the Earl of Oxford, the poet. This property—and others—would involve him in a series of vitriolic litigations.

As a member of the Royal Chapel in London, Byrd shared the post of organist with Thomas Tallis. In 1575, Queen Elizabeth I granted the two composers a monopoly to print and market part-music and lined music paper, a trade with a previously limited presence in England. The immediate fruit of this labor was Cantiones Sacres, a collection of more than 60 sacred works, published that same year.

The contents of Cantiones Sacres were performed at Elizabeth I’s Chapel Royal. But otherwise, the publication didn’t do well and the pair published nothing further for 13 years. In 1577, they complained to the queen that their patent wasn’t profitable and petitioned for further benefits. Byrd received the Manor of Longney in Gloucestershire as a result. It would later be the source of more litigation.

Between 1563 and 1578, Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543-1588), a prolific Italian composer, was in England in Elizabeth’s service, and was probably a spy. He was the son of Domenico Ferrabosco (1513-1574), an early madrigalist and former colleague of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palastrina (c1525-1594) at the Vatican. Alfonso, as a motet composer, had learned the style of Netherlander Orlando de Lassus (c1532-1594), and through him, Byrd came to understand the classical Netherlands imitative polyphony.

Times were tough for Catholics, and noblemen held secret Mass services in their private chapels. Few were prosecuted for this treasonous act, although it’s doubtful that Elizabeth I turned a blind eye. Byrd and Tallis were public figures and they had to put on a show of compliance.

But Byrd was known to be a Roman Catholic recusant and he risked prosecution by writing Masses for undercover use. For English Catholics, 1581 became a year of decision and renewed commitment. In Harlingon, Byrd’s wife was cited for recusancy along with a servant. Byrd himself wasn’t cited until 1585, when lists of suspected recusant gathering places named his own house. The Byrd family was repeatedly accused of being recusants and in 1605, they were accused of being long-time seducers for the Catholic cause.

It was a terrible period for English Catholics, with rumors flying, forced retirement, assassinations, and executions. Byrd’s home at Harlington was searched twice, perhaps because he was there when he should have been in London. Byrd and his family were fined hugely, but there were concessions, probably at the behest of Elizabeth I. After all, he was still composing official pieces for her.

In the middle of all this turmoil, Juliana died in 1586 or so, and Byrd married Ellen.

In 1587, Byrd renewed his efforts at publishing. Both Tallis and Thomas Vautrollier (d.1587), the printer of the Cantiones Sacrae, had recently died, leaving Byrd in sole possession of the patent and free to make more advantageous business arrangements. With the printer Thomas East (c1540-c1608) as his assignee, Byrd presided over the first truly great years of English music printing.

Byrd began collecting a retrospective of his own music between 1588 and 1591, and he turned his attention to publishing purely English collections.

His first real success was the Psalmes, Sonets, and Songs of 1588, the third known book of English songs ever to be published. The pieces were originally written for solo voice and instrumental consort, but had been adapted for five vocal parts. Someone later intabulated the collection for keyboard, although it probably wasn’t Byrd. The collection sold out that first year, and East printed two further editions before 1593. Byrd prepared another book for publication, converting a few pieces to vocal-only and writing a bunch of new pieces to be included, including two carols, and an anthem called Christ rising. This second book was for three, four, five, and six parts, as well as vocal soloist with consort accompaniment.

Italian madrigals were hitting it big in England, but Byrd wasn’t particularly excited by them. His 1589 publication barely touched on them. Ferrabosco, who’d left England in 1578, printed his own offerings to the English music scene in Nicholas Yonge’s (c1560-1619) translated madrigal anthology.

After 1590, Byrd’s attitude toward Latin sacred music underwent a change. Where his early motets had been penitential meditations, prayers, exhortations, and protests on behalf of the Catholic community, he started to work on a grandiose scheme to provide music specifically for Catholic services. The texts were drawn from the liturgy, and the music itself became less monumental, to serve the liturgical purpose of a shorter service. It was a new way to serve the recusant cause.

If the music was truly to serve, Byrd had to publish it. But even with his connections in high places, it was a dangerous undertaking. His most famous Masses were printed between 1593 and 1595, each in its own slim book, with no title pages or publication dates. (More on these later.)

Byrd’s fifth collection wasn’t published in his lifetime. It was called My Ladye Nevells Booke, and was dated 1591. One branch of the Nevell family lived at Uxbridge, near Harlington, but the lady in question hasn’t been identified. At any rate, Byrd preserved the best of his virginal music in this book, both old and new. Among these were the last fantasias that he composed.

In 1593, Byrd moved further from London to a large property in Stondon Massey, Essex, between Chipping Ongar and Ingatestone. Ingatestone and Thorndon were the two seats of his patrons, the Petre family, and he probably joined the local recusant Catholic community over which the Petres presided. He composed some pieces for the clandestine Masses, and he dedicated Book 2 of his Gradualia to Lord Petre. His most famous settings of the Ordinary of the Mass were probably first written for the Petres.

In 1593, Byrd moved his family to Essex, where he spent the rest of his life. When his publishing patent expired in 1598, it went to Thomas Morley (c1557-1602, biography coming soon), and a broader range of music in greater quantity began to be published, which implies that Byrd had censored which works he printed.

Byrd spent increasingly less time in London, and his name doesn’t appear in any of the lists of witnesses and petitioners recorded in the Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal between 1592 and 1623, except in the formal register of the members.

He continued to compose, although new music reigned in London and his style of music was as out of fashion as his religion. He spent most of his time dealing with litigation about the numerous leases he’d acquired by grant or purchase. There were at least six lawsuits, and all of them dragged on; the one regarding Stondon Massey lasted 17 years. Byrd was not always in the right, and when he was the one suing, he was unpleasantly tenacious. Even in his will, he mentions a quarrel with his daughter-in-law Catherine and the “undutiful obstinacy of one whom I am unwilling to name.”

Byrd’s three Latin Masses (more about these later) were published openly in the 1590s, and after publication of the Gradualia (in 1605 and 1607, for use with the Catholic liturgy), possession of either book became a criminal offence. With the Gradualia of 1605, Byrd’s half-hearted effort to conceal his identity was abandoned. The political climate was more favorable in 1605, but things changed with the Gunpowder Plot (a failed Catholic uprising against James I), and at least one person was arrested for merely being in possession of the Gradualia. Byrd’s response was to withdraw the books and store the pages.

Byrd’s Gradualia constitutes a sort of musical profession of faith and most of the texts in the collection refer to doctrines that had been attacked or watered down by the Reformers. The music offers many striking examples of contrapuntal virtuosity, word-painting, and a very original use of chromatic devices.

In the 1570s, Byrd began writing his series of pavans (slow processional dances) and galliards (a spirited dance in three-beat rhythms) for keyboard. These, according to the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (the seminal keyboard resource for the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras), were the first that Byrd wrote, and exist in a second version for five-part consort.

It would be nice to know how many Jacobean households celebrated Mass with Byrd’s Gradualia. Appleton Hall in Norfolk was certainly one. It was the home of Edward Paston, and was best known as the home of the Paston Letters (a collection of letters and papers from between 1422 and 1509). Byrd set some of Paston’s poetry to music in the consort-song style that he developed between 1596 and 1612.

Compositions

Byrd was both a traditionalist and an innovator, converting Continental ideas of counterpoint and imitation into a new native-English tradition, and his expressive range was unusually wide.

Although his works were colored by the times in which he lived, many of his motets, galliards, and pastorals are exuberant and joyous. As a precaution against religious persecution, he took his texts from the Bible and other unassailable sources and he wrote for both Catholic and Anglican churches with equal genius.

His lifetime output—at least what is credited to him—includes 180 motets, three Latin Masses, four Anglican Services, dozens of anthems, secular part-songs, fantasias and other works for viol consort, and variations, fantasias, dances, and other works for keyboards. His vocal music includes psalms, sonnets and songs, and around 50 consort songs that could be sung or played by a consort of instruments.

Byrd’s motets are full of musical audacities. One unique feature is called double imitation, where the “subject” melody is applied to two text fragments, and then both are broken down into sub-themes that are further developed and combined. It’s this double imitation that set Byrd apart from other contemporary composers, such as Thomas Tallis, and even his own earlier works.

During Byrd’s lifetime, there were few opportunities to perform his Latin motets publically because the requirement was that the new Anglican rite be sung in English only. His Latin motets capture the spirit of his religious loyalties and he probably wrote so many of them as a way of comforting the Catholic community that celebrated their faith in secret. He was fond of comparing the Catholic situation in England to that of the Jews in Biblical times; some of his motets lament for Jerusalem at the time of Babylonian captivity, some pray that the congregation might be liberated, and others are on the theme of the coming of God that was foretold in the Old Testament. But it was probably this very limitation that spurred Byrd’s creative juices into inventing the anthem.

The anthem fills the spot in the Anglican church service that had been left vacant by plucking out the Latin motet. Many of its features are similar, such as being intended for trained singers rather than the congregation, having verses and a repeated chorus section with different melodies, and having the option for the verses to be sung by soloists rather than the choir, which is called a verse anthem.

The verse anthem, quite popular by the late-16th century, was first accompanied only by an organ, but then Byrd added a quartet of viols. Byrd doesn’t repeat the text from a solo in a choral section, but that was the usual way of things for other composers of the time.

The secular songs he wrote predate the true madrigal (an Italian form of polyphony that lasted from the late 16th century until the mid 17th), and used intricate, flowing counterpoint derived from an earlier English style like that of Tallis (c1505-1585) and Taverner (1495-1545). His motets show him well free of the “for every syllable a note” restriction set up by Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) during the Reformation, and reveal his mastery of freely imitative polyphony.

Byrd’s early settings of English poems were strophic songs, where all verses and choruses use the same tune—nowadays, we think of this as “normal,” but it wasn’t always so. Instead he used a single voice and a consort of viols. For the viol consort without a solo voice, he wrote 14 fantasies, grounds, dances, and In Nomines (for more on In Nomines, read my blog post on John Taverner), plus 10 hymns and Miserere settings.

Like many other composers before and after him, Byrd used existing melodies, such as Greensleeves, in bits and pieces, throughout his consort pieces. It was a way of using tunes that would have been familiar to the congregation, and it offers today’s musicologists an insight into secular melodies, which were much less well documented than church music.

Byrd was only 10 years old in 1553 when Mary Tudor took the throne, so it’s unlikely that his Masses were much influenced by the five years of safety that her reign offered to Catholics. Despite the covert nature of his religious affinities, his Masses convey a certain freedom that it was never possible to display publically during his lifetime.

He used Continental-style patterns of imitation, but his occasional elaborate melismas (fancy bits where a single syllable is sung across a lot of notes) were more ornate than anything done by his predecessors. His Great Service uses imitative polyphony with frequent repetition of the text during the doxology (a short praise hymn that is often appended to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns). This innovation would be widely imitated by later composers.

Many of Byrd’s Catholic contemporaries left England in order to practice their religion without persecution. Byrd didn’t, and the three Masses he’s most famous for (in three, four, and five voices, respectively) were published in the 1590s and soon retracted.

Life as a Catholic was difficult, and his works reflect that. All are fairly short, suitable for clandestine celebrations of Mass. Their contrapuntal style is remarkable for the variety of rhythms displayed during such short works. In this respect, Byrd’s music is more accessible to modern ears than other works from the predominantly Catholic Continent.

He wrote 140 pieces for keyboard, including 11 fantasies, 14 variations, grounds, descriptive pieces, and a bunch of dances including 20 pavans and galliards. Some were published in Parthenia (1612-13), and many appeared in My Lady’s Nevells Book (1585-1590), and the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (1562-1612).

Byrd’s teaching was preserved by Thomas Morley in his Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke from 1597, which contains many remarkable tributes to Byrd. Luckily for posterity, Byrd also anthologized his own works, and his legacy in England is deservedly as great as that of Josquin (c1440-1521) in Europe. He was constantly learning and improving on his own work, and through his anthologies, it’s possible to see how he carefully reworked problems he’d been unable to resolve in his earlier works.

His last printed works were four quiet sacred songs that he published in Sir William Leighton’s Teares or Lamentations of a Sorrowful Soule in 1614.

Byrd died a wealthy man at Stondon Massy on the 4th of July in 1623. He was probably buried in the parish churchyard as specified by his will, but his grave hasn’t been located. The will also states that he had apartments in the London house of the Earl of Worcester, which suggests that he might have been a private musician there. He also had a chamber in the Petres’ house at West Thorndon.

The only known portrait of Byrd was painted 105 years after his death and is therefore unreliable.

Sources:

“The Encyclopedia of Music,” by Max Wade-Matthews and Wendt Thompson. Lorenz Books, Leicestershire, 2012.

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978.

“The Pelican History of Music, Book 2: Renaissance and Baroque,” edited by Alec Robertson and Denis Stevens. Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1973.

“Companion to Medieval & Renaissance Music,” edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997.

“The New Grove High Renaissance Masters,” by Jeremy Noble, Gustave Reese, Lewis Lockwood, James Harr, Joseph Kerman, Robert Stevenson. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1984.

Composer Biography: Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543-1588)

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Although much of his life was spent as an ordinary court musician, Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder had moments of notoriety that quietly upset the proverbial British teakettle. He came from a family of musicians and fathered another great family of musicians, and saw the Vatican from the choir loft, France from the home of the Duke of Savoy, and England from Queen Elizabeth I’s court. He also hung out with England’s most famous musicians, including William Byrd, Thomas Morley, and John Dowland.

Ferrabosco was born in Bologna, the son of Domenico Ferabosco (note spelling difference). Domenico (1513-1574) may be the same person who was dismissed from being maestro of the Papal choir at St. Petronio for being married and who later became maestro at a Roman church. That older Ferabosco published a volume of madrigals in 1542 and contributed others to anthologies. HIs song Io mi son giovinetta was especially popular and Giovanni Pieluigi da Palestrina (c1525-1594), probably the most famous musician and composer of the era, based a Mass on it.

Other composers in the family include Domenico’s cousin’s kids, Constantino (fl c1550-1600) who worked in Nuremburg and published a book of canzonettas, and Matthia (1550-1616) who was Kapellameiser in Graz and composed canzonettas and villanellas.

Alfonso spent part of his early life in Rome with his notorious father, surrounded by music and musicians. As a young adult, he also spent some time in Lorraine (France) as a court musician for Charles of Guise (1524-1574).

Alfonso went to England for the first time in 1562, probably with his uncle, and found employment in Elizabeth I’s court. There he stayed for the next 16 years. But a dark cloud seemed to follow him everywhere. He made frequent trips to Italy, but neither the pope nor the Inquisition approved of his time in England, which was actively at war with Roman Catholic countries. While in England, Alfonso lost his Italian inheritance, and later, when he returned to Italy, he was charged with crimes in England (in absentia), including robbing and killing another foreigner. He returned to clear his name successfully, but left England in 1578 and never returned.

While in England, Alfonso the Elder had a family. There’s no record of a marriage, so it’s possible that his children were illegitimate. One of these kids, Alfonso the Younger, was born in 1578 and lived in England until his death in 1628. He was a lutenist, viol player, and singer, and was employed at court from 1592. He (the Younger) became teacher to Princes Henry and Charles (later Charles I), and was granted a pension and annuity by James I in 1605. Under Charles I, Alfonso the Younger also became Composer of Music to the King. From 1605 until 1611, he worked on the music for seven masques, along with playwright Ben Jonson (c1572-1637) and architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652).

Some of Alfonso the Younger’s works were published in a book of Ayres (1609) along with more conventional lute songs. His vocal music was similar to his father’s music in both somberness and style. His fantasias and In Nomines (for more on this genre of music, see my blog on John Taverner) are distinctive among his instrumental music, which also includes dances for viols and pieces for lute. Alfonso the Younger had three sons who were also musicians, another Alfonso (c1610-1660), a viol and wind player who took over his father’s appointments; Henry (c1615-1658), a singer, wind player, and composer, who was a musician until 1645 and then went off on a military expedition to Jamaica, where he was killed in 1658; and John (1626-1682), who was an organist and composer at Ely Cathedral from 1662 and whose works include several services, anthems, and harpsichord dances.

At any rate, after founding a musical dynasty, Alfonso the Elder left for Rome in 1580. Elizabeth I tried to get him to come back to England so fervently that some sources suggest he was her spy, and that she was so anxious for his return because she needed information (after all, she had William Byrd and Thomas Tallis to write music for her). There isn’t much more than circumstantial evidence of this, though, and he refused to return to England.

Alfonso the Elder wrote “madrigalian” motets and simple Latin hymn settings in a style similar to those of William Byrd. This was a style that had appeared in England in the 1580s when the English mania for all things Italian reached its height. Examples of this mania can also be found in the poetry of Edmund Spenser (c1552-1599) and Philip Sidney (1554-1586).

Italian manuscript collections had reached England with Alfonso the Elder in 1562, but it took a while for tastes to turn to the new style. And although he’s only given tiny little biographies in the music history texts, his music was included in anthologies by the British, Italians, and Frenchmen. Not many can say that. And madrigals soon became the most prevalent type of composition in England. He has to get credit for bringing the madrigal to England.

Alfonso the Elder’s style was more conservative than famed Italian madrigalists Luca Marenzio (c1553-1599) or Luzzasco Luzzaschi (c1545-1607), but it suited the more uptight English tastes. Most of his madrigals were for five or six voices, were light in style, and they ignored the Italian musical developments, such as chromaticism and word painting. They were described by Thomas Morley (c1557-1602) as technically skillful when he published several of Ferrabosco’s works in 1598 (10 years after Ferrabosco’s death).

Alfonso also wrote sacred music, including motets, lamentations, and several anthems, all a capella (without instrumental accompaniment). He also wrote instrumental music, including fantasias, pavans, galliards, In Nomines, and passamezzos for a variety of instrumental combinations, including lute and viols.

While in England, he worked hard to interest English musicians in Italian music, and although his style was conservative, he is the composer most generously represented in Musica Transalpina, a compilation of Italian madrigals translated into English and collected by Nicolas Yonge and published in 1588 by Michael East (c1580-1648).

In total, Ferrabosco wrote more than 60 sacred works, mostly motets and lamentations for five and six voices. Technically, he was most influenced by Orlando de Lassus (c1532-1594, biography to come). In turn, he inspired William Byrd (1543-1623, biography to come) and other English composers. Most of the texts he chose are sad and his melodic lines reflect his preoccupation with plaintive and meditative subjects and emotions. Perhaps he homesick for Italy.

In the larger sense of music history, his work wasn’t as important as that of other Italian madrigalists, although he influenced them with what he’d learned from the English. It certainly also worked the other way, as he was the only Italian madrigalist in England at the time, and without his efforts, Byrd would have had no teacher in the style.

He published two books of five-part secular madrigals in 1587 and wrote 70 more in five or six voices. His style is simple compared to others of his time—he was admired for skill rather than for innovation.

Ferrabosco wrote a few chansons, Latin songs, fantasias, and dances for the lute, and some fantasias and In Nomines for viols.

In the last years of his life, Alfonso was court musician to the Duke of Savoy in Turin. He died in Bologna at the young age of 45.

 

Sources:

“The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music,” edited by Stanley Sadie. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1994.

“The Concise Oxford History of Music,” by Gerald Abraham. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979.

“A Dictionary of Early Music; from the Troubadours to Monteverdi,” by Jerome & Elizabeth Roche. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981.

“Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music,” by Don Michael Randel. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978.

“The New Grove High Renaissance Masters,” by Gustave Reese, Jeremy Noble, Lewis Lockwood, Jessie Ann Owens, James Haar, Joseph Kerman, Robert Stevenson. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1984.