William Byrd

It is amazing that, after two years writing this blog, I have not touched on the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure and takes up a lot of my time . . . music.

But I am going to break my silence now, because I have made a new musical discovery.

My taste is extremely catholic. Pop, Rock, Jazz, Folk, Classical, everything but not anything. It can be any genre of music as long as it’s good. I am aware of the value judgement here, but I am not so post-modern that I have no sense of discrimination.

Discrimination is not elitist. We all have it and use it. It is simply a matter of liking this piece of music more than I like that piece of music.

So, what is my latest discovery that I want to share with the world?

(Oh, come off it, Steve. The world . . . ?)

I have discovered the choral music of William Byrd, and it is exquisite.

Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance, and his music is mostly unaccompanied church music, some in English, some in Latin. The words, however, are not really the point. The point, for me, is the beauty of the music, which sounds pure and fresh. Exquisite is the word I keep thinking of, the clarity of sunlight in the Spring.

Songs, like madrigals, and dances were played at Court and in the houses of the aristocracy. We are still saddled with this musical class structure, even now. Polyphonic music, which is music with many lines sounding simultaneously, has tended to be the preserve of the educated classes, and this music evolved into what we now call classical music. Folk music and, much later, Popular music, was monophonic music in the vernacular, and was therefore generally, though not always, looked down on by the ruling class.



The Renaissance in Europe happened, essentially, in the 1500s. It involved a remarkable flowering of Art of the highest quality – names like Michelangelo and Shakespeare, among many others. The word itself means re-birth and it was built upon the rediscovery of the works of classical Greece and Rome, and, particularly in northern Europe, the growth of humanism, a philosophy that stressed the importance of humanity rather than God.

People tend to think of the Renaissance in Italian terms – Florence and Michelangelo, and so on. But it was also a tremendous flowering of English music recognized as such throughout Europe. This is a noteworthy point, because English classical music has not had a very high international profile since the Renaissance. Some people still say that England can’t produce great composers, and that somehow it is not in the ‘national temperament’.

However, in the Renaissance, English composers, like William Byrd, were internationally acclaimed. In the world of literature England could also boast figures like John Donne, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare.


It was a good team for England to put into the European Renaissance Cup. The Final would have been Italy v England. It would probably have gone to penalties.


About stevehobsonauthor

I am blind, and I hate it. It stinks. But life is still sweet. I have multiple sclerosis, and that stinks too, but life is still sweet. These are my musings.
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