Show me, deare Christ - a reflection on the Credo of Byrd’s 5-part Mass


by Alexander L'Estrange

unaccompanied SATB chorus
Mixed Voices
First Performance
9 & 10.2.2016, Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London, London, UK: ORA/Suzi Digby

Score on sale as digital download

Programme Notes

What fascinated me most about this commission was the question of what "Credo" would have meant for William Byrd, a well-known "recusant" (a Catholic who refused to go to church). This was, after all, an age when being caught with Latin "popish" books, celebrating Catholic Mass or, even worse, harbouring a priest in your house, could mean jail, or, for Jesuit martyrs like Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and many others, much worse - hanging, drawing and quartering and then your body parts being boiled in salt water and cumin seed before being displayed on pikes around the city. Lovely. In the light of this, it is all the more amazing that William Byrd was able to write and furthermore publish his three Latin masses in the 1590s - this was effectively illegal music (no church choir could or would sing it) that only someone willing to risk accusations of treason would buy or sing. I have chosen to set John Donne's Holy Sonnet XVIII, which expresses his lifelong distress about the fragmentation of the church ('the bride of Christ'). Donne himself was a Catholic - his brother died in prison, guilty of "harbouring a seminary priest" - who eventually converted to Anglicanism in 1615 and later became Dean of St Paul's. Interpolated are words from Campion and Southwell, William Byrd's will and other contemporary sources, as well as both Latin and English "intonations" from the "Credo" (plainchant) and "Creed" (Marbecke's English setting). Alexander L'Estrange, January 2015

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