Psalmes, Songs, and Sonnets (William Byrd)

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General Information

Publication date and place: 1611

Composer: William Byrd

The title-page of Byrd's final publication reads Psalmes, Songs, and Sonnets: some solemne, other joyfull, framed to the life of the Words: Fit for Voyces or Viols of 3. 4. 5. and 6. Parts. Composed by William Byrd, one of the Gent. of his Majesties honourable Chappell. It has been suggested that viol-playing came once more into fashion in the early years of the seventeenth century; hence not only Byrd's inclusion of some old fantazias and consort songs probably dating from the 1580s, but his suggestion that any of the pieces could be either played or sung.

The collection is even more wide-ranging than his two previous vernacular publications, including distinctly old-fashioned polyphonic songs setting some 50-year-old moralistic verse of a kind of which Byrd never tired alongside a series of psalm-settings in the most modern manner, possibly dating from the 1590s or even from Jacobean times. (Unless Byrd had access to pre-publication copies of the Primer (see below), then most of these anthems must date from the 17th century.) These include the well-known Praise our Lord all ye Gentiles and the (to this writer) even finer Turn our captivity, both six-part pieces displaying every facet of Byrd's incomparable contrapuntal art. Any suggestion that these were intended as Anglican anthems is probably refuted by an examination of the textual sources; the majority of the psalm translations are taken from Richard Verstegan's Primer, or Office of the blessed Virgin Marie (1599 & many editions thereafter), a book of hours serving as a lay equivalent of the Breviary and much in use by recusant communities in England.

Although this was the last publication that Byrd himself compiled, his work appeared in two further publications before his death: Parthenia, the first ever printed book of keyboard music (1612-13) and William Leighton's The teares or lamentacions of a sorrowfull soule.

List of works

For 3 voices

For 4 voices

For 5 voices

For 6 voices

Editions of the two purely instrumental numbers are available from the Werner Icking Music Archive (