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William Byrd

William Byrd Composer

Justorum animae (also anthem 'Souls of the righteous'; a5)

Performances: 2
Tracks: 2
  • Justorum animae (also anthem 'Souls of the righteous'; a5)
    Genre: Motet
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
As William Byrd moved into relative retirement (at least as far as the English Royal Court was concerned) in the Stondon Massey area he found himself, happily enough, in an area of relative Catholic concentration. As a result, Byrd was able to attend the private Latin ceremonies held at the house of Sir John Petre, a local, wealthy Catholic landholder, and it was probably for these private religious occasions that he originally composed the 110-or-so motets contained in the two volumes of his Gradualia (published in 1605 and 1607). One of the most well-known of these pieces is the five-voice motet Iustorum animae in manu Dei sunt that serves as the offertory for the All Saints music contained in Book 1 of the Gradualia. Like almost all the pieces of the Gradualia, Iustorum animae is marked by a certain intimacy of tone befitting its origin as vocal chamber-music. It is striking not on account of any overt drama or epic scale but rather on account of its perfect structural and motivic balance; certainly the gradual and very subtle transitions between homophony and polyphony betray the hand of both a skilled and a very experienced composer. The opening passage is set without real counterpoint or imitation of any kind. As Byrd warms to the quiet passion of the text (with its reflective ponderance on death) some highly original echo-effects and imitation begin to unfold, and the composer's lifelong love of chromatic cross-relations becomes apparent. A little later on, a flowing passage in four-voice sequential stretto imitation shows, by contrast, how very restrained and subtle the rest of the work is. Harmonically, Byrd's design is strikingly "modern", making almost exclusive use of fifth-relations and allowing the bass voice to achieve an independence that would have been impossible in his earlier music.

© Blair Johnston, Rovi
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