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William Byrd

William Byrd Composer

Domine, salva nos (a6)

Performances: 1
Tracks: 1
  • Domine, salva nos (a6)
    Year: 1591
    Genre: Motet
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
William Byrd's Cantiones Sacrae, published in 1589 and 1591, contains no fewer than eight Latin motets scored for six voices, the size ensemble that Byrd had seemingly been moving away from since about 1575. It is possible to divide these eight pieces along broad stylistic lines: about half are in a relatively old-fashioned vein, while the others are more forward-looking. Whereas in his younger days Byrd was concerned with quantity of sound and thickness of texture when using ensembles of this size, in the four more progressive of these six-voice pieces we find him emphasizing instead the same kind of streamlined textures and motivic shapes that are so prominent in his four- and five-voice motets and that so distinctly mark his later work from his earlier. The six-voice prayer-motet Domine salva nos of 1591 provides the best glimpse of this proto-Baroque kind of expression. Throughout the four basic sections into which Byrd pours the Magnificat antiphon text of Domine salva nos the six voices are more apt to work in small groups, pairs and threesomes, than in either the en masse techniques or the dense running counterpoint of the earlier music. Motives, such as the three-note descending gesture G-F-E used for the opening "Domine", are well-defined and, more significantly, both short and exclusive, meaning that a minimum of musical material is used to set any given portion of text. Contrast on every level is a feature of the work, not fighting with the principles of musical balance but rather accentuating them. The broad three-part homophonic opening gesture, with its almost immediate chromatic cross-relation (a feature of Byrd's music that is by no means new but goes back to even his earliest compositions; here the emphasis is on major triads related by minor third, and Byrd plays out this pungent relationship as the work unfolds) is balanced by a quicker descending neighbor-note figure motive for the following "salva". A rich, four-voice version of the opening "Domine" is given before Byrd again turns the tables and gives the "salva" motive in strikingly exposed parallel tenths. Byrd's abandonment of dense points of imitation in favor of lean motivic designs and coloristic effects is a fascinating parallel (and in some ways a precursor), here on the isolated British Isle, to the fascinating Italian madrigal developments of Monteverdi and company.

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