The ordinary was sung in Gregorian chant by the musicians and the congregation. We celebrated all twelve feast days at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in downtown Palo Alto, California, home of the St. Ann Choir (directed by William Mahrt) and of a con gregation well-versed in singing chant ordinaries. We used four settings:
Lux et origo (I) for Easter, Ascension and Pentecost
Fans bonitatis (II) for Epiphany and All Saints
Cunctipotens genitor (IV) for Corpus Christi and SS. Peter & Paul
Cum iubilo (IX) for the four Marian feasts
At our final Mass, on Christmas Day, we celebrated the completion of the cycle by singing the Byrd ordinary for four voices.
It became apparent over the course of the year that Byrd had thought of all the little things. There are always sufficient places to breathe, even when singing one-on-a-part, which can hardly be said for the rest of the Renaissance sacred repertoire (or even for the rest of Byrd.) When there are two Masses close together in the calendar, such as Christmas and Epiphany or Ascension and Pentecost, the two are for the same arrange ment of voices. This made even more sense in 1605, when the pace of travel was slow er and major feasts exposed Catholics to the risk of capture, but it is still convenient for singers in our day. The music changes when special circumstances require it, such as the procession with candles on Candlemas, which takes place in winter in a darkened room. The Mass proper for that day is in five parts, but the piece for the procession, Adorna thalamum tuum, is only in three. As we quickly found out, this change in scor ing frees up two of the singers to lead the two lines of the procession and intone the first processional chants, while the other three stay behind in the better-lit choir area to sing the music provided by Byrd.
A surprising link between seventeenth-century and modern performances of Gradualia is the fact that women appear to have taken part in this repertoire from the very beginning. The obvious parallel is with the domestic performance of madrigals and other secular music. The English Catholics pursued girls' education, especially when it came to subjects such as Latin or singing that helped preserve their religious heritage. Some of their most famous authors, patrons, and martyrs were women. Hundreds went overseas to live in English convents, which became renowned for their intellectual and artistic life. The nuns there cultivated music at the highest levels: the liturgy at the English Benedictine convent in Brussels, for example, was served by the renowned composer and organist Richard Dering in the early seventeenth century. At home in England, recusant landowners were often imprisoned or forcibly exiled, leav ing their wives to manage the house and its round of clandestine worship. A report sur vives from as early as 1586 that Byrd was visiting a Catholic house with "male and fe male choristers, members of the household." One of the original copies of Gradualia is signed with some flourish (on the cover of the alto partbook) by a woman named Jane Staunton. This appears to have been the first time in history that men and women sang this kind of liturgical music together: a small point, but arguably an important one.
One famous patron of the liturgy was the wealthy Lady Montague, an acquaintance of Byrd. The description of her domestic church is worth quoting at some length.
She built a chappell in her house (which in such a persecution was to be ad mired) and there placed a very faire Altar of stone, wherto she made an ascent with steps and enclosed it with railes: and to have every thing conformable, she built a Quire for singers, and set up a pulpit for the Priests, which perhaps is not to be seene in all England besides. Heere almost every weeke was a sermon made, and on solemne feasts the sacrifice of the Masse was celebrated with singing, and musicall instruments, and sometimes also with Deacon & subdea con. And such was the concourse and resort of Catholikes, that sometimes there