William Byrd, John Merbecke, & Thomas Tallis
Musicians + Christ Followers
21 Nov 1623, 1585, 1585
From the Satucket Lectionary
William Byrd (1540 or late 1539- 4 July 1623) was an English composer of the Renaissance. He cultivated many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.
Byrd obtained the prestigious post of Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572 following the death of Robert Parsons, a gifted composer who drowned in the Trent near Newark on 25 January of that year. From the early 1570s onwards Byrd became increasingly involved with Roman Catholicism, which became a major factor in his personal and creative life. As a result, Byrd’s membership of the Chapel Royal was suspended for a time, restrictions were placed on his movements and his house was placed on the search list.
Byrd’s output of about 470 compositions amply justifies his reputation as one of the great masters of European Renaissance music. Perhaps his most impressive achievement as a composer was his ability to transform so many of the main musical forms of his day and stamp them with his own identity. Having grown up in an age in which Latin polyphony was largely confined to liturgical items for the Sarum rite, he assimilated and mastered the Continental motet form of his day, employing a highly personal synthesis of English and continental models. He virtually created the Tudor consort and keyboard fantasia, having only the most primitive models to follow. He also raised the consort song, the church anthem and the Anglican service setting to new heights.
John Marbeck, Merbeck or Merbecke (c. 1510 – c. 1585) was an English theological writer and musician who produced a standard setting of the Anglican liturgy. He is also known today for his setting of the Mass, Missa per arma iustitie.
Probably a native of Beverley in Yorkshire, Merbecke appears to have been a boy chorister at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and was employed as an organist there from about 1541. Two years later he was convicted with three others of heresy and sentenced to stake, but received a pardon owing to the intervention of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. An English Concordance of the Bible which Marbeck had been preparing was however confiscated and destroyed. A later version of this work, the first of its kind in English, was published in 1550 with a dedication to Edward VI.
In the same year Marbeck published his Booke of Common Praier Noted, intended to provide for musical uniformity in the use of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. This set the liturgy to semi-rhythmical melodies partly adapted from Gregorian chant; it was rendered obsolete when the Prayer Book was revised in 1552. It was however rediscovered in the 19th century, and adaptations for the 1662 liturgy are still in use. Marbeck wrote several devotional and controversial works of a strongly Calvinistic character, and a number of his musical compositions are preserved in manuscript in the British Library, and at Oxford and Cambridge. He died, probably while still organist at Windsor, about 1585.
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585) was an English composer. Tallis flourished as a church musician in 16th century England. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of England’s early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship.
Throughout his service to successive monarchs as organist and composer, Tallis avoided the religious controversies that raged around him, though, like William Byrd, he stayed an “unreformed Roman Catholic.” The reformed Anglican liturgy was inaugurated during the short reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), and Tallis was one of the first church musicians to write anthems set to English words, although Latin continued to be used. Toward the end of his life, Tallis resisted the musical development seen in his younger contemporaries such as William Byrd, who embraced compositional complexity and adopted texts built by combining disparate biblical extracts. Tallis retained respect during a succession of opposing religious movements and deflected the violence that claimed Catholics and Protestants alike.
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