Byrd wrote a collection of Latin liturgical music-109 pieces in all-"to adorn divine things," as he explained in his preface, "with the highest art of which I was capable."3
In the course of the year 2000, a small group of musicians at Stanford University sang the twelve principal sets of feast-day Mass propers from Gradualia, each in the context of a sung Latin Mass. We soon found that this music had lost none of its power to inspire in the intervening four hundred years. As we worked through the music for each feast, watching the annual cycle slowly take shape, it became clear we were en gaged with a unique masterpiece of liturgical art.
Singing this repertoire brings a different set of demands than, say, singing a cycle of Josquin Masses. The style of Gradualia reflects the precarious situation of English Catholic liturgy in Byrd's day. Unlike many of his non-liturgical earlier works, these pieces are lean, compact, often jewel-like-more Hilliard miniatures than vast decora tive tapestries. The music is resilient enough to be sung by a cast of dozens in a large Gothic cathedral, but it was written for the intimate, even secretive atmosphere of do mestic worship, to be performed by a small group of musicians and heard by a small congregation. We tried to recreate something of this ambience: singing in a modest, non-echoing space with one voice to a part, discussing the texts in informal rehean,als and attempting to express them through their musical settings.
This article is essentially a set of notes on our "revival" of the Gradualia cycle. We hope it may inspire other singers and choirmasters who are interested in long-range liturgical projects. It covers three general topics: first, a brief account of the historical context; second, the structure and content of the collection; and last, some practical ob servations on its performance, both in Byrd's day and in our own.4
The background of Byrd's Latin liturgical music
The two books of Gradualia were the culmination of a long, varied musical career. Like most professional musicians in Renaissance Europe, Byrd took up his trade at an early age. He almost certainly sang in the Chapel Royal during Mary Tudor's reIgn (1553-1558), "bred up to music under Thomas Tallis." This placed him in the best choir in England during his impressionable years, alongside the finest musicians of his day, who were brought in from all over the British Isles, from the Netherlands, even from Spain. Queen Mary spent her brief reign reacting to the excesses of Protestant auster ity under her predecessor Edward VI. One of the more pleasant aspects of this was her taste for elaborate Latin church music. The old Catholic festal calendar was restored, with all the attendant ceremony and music for both Mass and Office. Byrd seems to have thrived on the exuberant, creative atmosphere; there is even evidence of his be ginning to compose during these years. This revival of intensive liturgical culture ap pears to have left a lasting mark on the young musician.
He was appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1570 by the staunchly Protestant Queen Elizabeth, and returned to the court, where he worked as a singer, composer and organist for more than two decades. Even as he won fame for his Anglican music, he was writing bitter Latin motets about the plight of the English Catholic community. He eventually tired of compromise and left the court, keeping his position at the Chapel in absentia. In 1593 he moved with his family to the small town of Stondon Massey, Essex, near several sympathetic enclaves of Catholic gentry, and spent the remaining thirty years of his life there, devoting himself more and more to music for the Roman liturgy. He published his three famous settings of the Ordinary between 1592 and 1595, and followed them in 1605 and 1607 with the two books of Gradualia. He continued to write secular songs, madrigals, and keyboard pieces until the end of his life, but his later church music, composed during the years in Essex, is exclusively Latin. He died on July 4, 1623, and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Stondon churchyard.