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 (http://icking-music-archive.org/ByComposer/Byrd.php)

Works at CPDL

Title Year No. Genre Subgenre Vo. Voices
A feigned friend 1611 11 Secular Partsongs 4 SSAT
Ah silly Soul 1611 31 Secular Consort songs 1 A
Arise Lord into thy rest 1611 18 Sacred Anthems 5 AATTB
Awake mine eyes 1611 12 Secular Partsongs 4 SSAB
Come jolly Swains 1611 13 Secular Partsongs 4 SSAT
Come let us rejoice unto our Lord 1611 16 Sacred Anthems 4 SSAT
Come woeful Orpheus 1611 19 Secular Partsongs 5 SSATB
Crowned with flowers 1611 22 Secular Partsongs 5 SATTB
Have mercy upon me 1611 25 Sacred Anthems 6 SATTTB
How vain the toils 1611 32 Sacred Consort songs 1 A
I have been young 1611 7 Sacred Partsongs 3 SST
In Winter cold - Whereat an ant 1611 3-4 Secular Partsongs 3 SST
In crystal towers 1611 8 Secular Partsongs 3 SST
Let not the sluggish sleep 1611 10 Secular Partsongs 4 AATB
Make ye joy to God 1611 24 Sacred Anthems 5 AATTB
O God that guides the cheerful sun 1611 28 Sacred Anthems 6 SAATTB
Of flattering speech 1611 2 Secular Partsongs 3 SST
Praise our Lord all ye Gentiles 1611 29 Sacred Anthems 6 SSATBB, AATTBB
Retire my soul 1611 17 Secular Partsongs 5 SSATB
Sing we merrily unto God 1611 20-21 Sacred Anthems 5 SSSAT
Sing ye to our Lord 1611 6 Sacred Sacred songs 3 SST
The Eagle's force 1611 1 Secular Partsongs 3 AAT
This day Christ was born 1611 27 Sacred Anthems 6 SSAATB
This sweet and merry month of May (a 4) 1590 9 Secular Madrigals 4 ATTB,SATB
Turn our captivity 1611 30 Sacred Anthems 6 AATTBB
Wedded to will is witless 1611 23 Secular Partsongs 5 SATTB
What is life, or worldly pleasure? 1611 14 Secular Partsongs 4 SSAT
Who looks may leap 1611 5 Secular Partsongs 3 AAT