Faithfulness in a Time of Trouble
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd. English church music owes an immense debt to his accomplishments, as he composed a large and creative repertoire of music for Anglican worship in the 1560s and 1570s. His settings of verse anthems—a major innovation in Anglican worship in which solo voices alternate with full choir, with continuous organ accompaniment—shaped the development of this liturgical form well into the eighteenth century. His dozens of unaccompanied English-language anthems continue to be sung by Anglican choirs. His “Great Service”—a magnificent ten-voice setting of the Creed, Kyrie, and canticles sung at Morning and Evening Prayer—has been hailed as the “jewel in the crown” of Anglican music, despite the fact that it was virtually unknown until its rediscovery in manuscripts at Durham Cathedral in 1922.
But there is a shadow hovering over Byrd’s contribution to the treasury of Anglican music. Peter Phillips has mused that “Byrd holds a uniquely important position in the history of English sacred music, and yet we may suppose from his ardent Catholicism that he disapproved of the existence of the Church for which this music was intended.”
Byrd & Elizabeth
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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