The remainder of the Office music is primarily for the Little Office of the Virgin, which was said or sung by a large number of English recusants in Byrd's day. He set all four of the relevant hymns (Quem terra, pontus, aethera; 0 gloriosa Domina; Memento salutis auctor; and Ave maris stella), as well as the four standard Marian antiphons (Alma redemptoris mater, Ave regina caelorum, Regina cae/i, and Salve Regina). He also included a number of related pieces, such as In manus tuas, the compline prayer Visita quaesumus, the response Oeo gratias, the Litany of the Saints, and the intriguing Salve sola Dei geni trix, a humanist paraphrase of the Ave Maria in hexameters.
Both volumes of Gradualia also contain a handful of other liturgical and para-liturgi cal items. Although they fall outside the scope of the present discussion, they share the same ethic and aesthetic as the main cycles listed above. The well-known Ave verum corpus, a prayer prescribed by English devotional handbooks to be said at the elevation, is appended to the Corpus Christi propers. The psalm-motet Ecce quam bonum exhorts brethren to dwell together in unity (a recurring problem among the small, beleaguered recusant community); Adoramus te Christe and Christus resurgens evoke the mysterious hours between Byrd's setting of the Good Friday Passion choruses and his Easter Mass propers; Plorans plorabit laments over the "Lord's flock taken captive" in the bluntest of terms, while Laudate Dominum and Venite exsultemus are invitations to praise in joyous six-voice polyphony. Not a single piece, whether in the feast-day cycle or apart from it, appears to be out of place in the collection.
Some reflections on performance
The most rewarding aspect of singing the Gradualia propers was the opportunity to watch the repertoire unfold through the liturgical seasons. What looked to us like a daunting endeavor when sketched out on the calendar turned out to be quite manage able from one feast day to the next. The natural spacing of the festal cycle gave us time to rehearse each Mass as it approached, though the pace did quicken somewhat during the month of June because of the late date of Easter that year, which brought the six voice music for Sts. Peter and Paul immediately on the heels of the Ascension / Pentecost / Corpus Christi set. Each Mass generally got four full rehearsals (conduct ed, in domestic Elizabethan style, around a dining-room table) and one "dry run" in the church.
It is clear from Byrd's own statements that he reflected very deeply on the text as he was composing these pieces, and we know that the people who sang them, or who heard them in the congregation, were steeped in the rhetoric and images of the liturgy. We discussed the texts among ourselves, and made detailed programs with transla tions, attempting to be completely literal and let the words speak for themselves. To translate the Scripture readings, we used the original Douai-Rheims version (an English Catholic project of the same generation as the Gradualia), which follows the Vulgate text almost to a fault.
Putting together these liturgies was to some extent a process of stripping down. As befits a solemn High Mass, all texts (including the lessons) were sung rather than read, with no amplification beyond the human voice and the acoustic of the church. Like our seventeenth-century counterparts, we were very fortunate to have a priest (Fr. Christopher Dietz, OFM Conv.) who was a fine singer and enjoyed the task. The one audible text not sung was the Roman Canon, which was said softly, interrupted only by the ringing of bells-seven or eight minutes that became the favorite of several musi cians and listeners who were otherwise unfamiliar with the liturgy. There was also a fair amount of silence, which was a valuable counterweight for the intensity and con centration of Byrd's polyphonic settings. Each service fell into four more or less equal parts: one-quarter Byrd, one-quarter chant, one-quarter singing by the priest, and the remainder prayerful silence. At least one person complimented us on the silence in stead of the music, which made us unexpectedly happy.