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William Byrd

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(1540 – 1623)

William Byrd (1540 or late 1539 –1623) was one of the most celebrated English composers in the Renaissance.

He lived until well into the seventeenth century without writing music in the new Baroque fashion, but his superbly constructed keyboard works marked the beginning of the Baroque organ and harpsichord style. Byrd’s life is interesting because of his Roman Catholic sympathies combined with his work in the court of the Anglican Queen Elizabeth I.

He composed much music, if intermittently, for the Roman Catholic liturgy, particularly in his later years; the two volumes of Gradualia are a prime example. Possibly as a result of this he did not receive widespread recognition in his lifetime, but was very well respected among the Roman Catholic gentry. In the anti-Catholic frenzy following the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, the first volume of the Gradualia (1605), was banned in England under penalty of imprisonment, as indeed was all of his Catholic music; however, his Anglican music - such as the Short Service, and the Responses - has been sung in English cathedrals uninterrupted for the past four centuries.

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