To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd, the Westminster Cathedral Choir will perform his entire Gradualia, set to music for Mass, during choral services at Westminster Cathedral.
William Byrd (1540 – 1623) was an English composer of the late Renaissance and considered one of the finest and most important composers of his time and nation. He was a Catholic during the religious turmoil of the late 1500s, when Catholicism was outlawed and many prominent Catholics were martyred for their beliefs.
The two sets of Proper Mass settings that make up the Gradualia were written for clandestine use by English Catholics.
As Cardinal Vincent explains: “William Byrd’s arrangements for Mass were first heard in secret, in private chapels and back rooms, in the presence of Catholics who risked their livelihoods and priests who risked their lives. Yet despite the private nature of these early performances, his music is full of life and emotion and communicates the vitality of a living faith, strong against the difficulties of the times. Each note, each sentence, is a prayer. Our prayer today is in continuity with his.
It is highly symbolic that these arrangements are sung during the same masses for which they were composed, but in the very public setting of Westminster Cathedral in the year 400 of Byrd’s death.
The music was intended to help Catholics mark the different seasons of the Church calendar, and the 109 pieces will be performed at the appropriate time of year.
Highlights include a special Requiem Mass at the Cathedral on Tuesday July 4, 2023 – the very date of Byrd’s death in 1623, as well as 17 Masses with full Mass arrangements, sung in the Cathedral for the very first time.
The celebration begins on Sunday, December 18, 2022 and will continue until Monday, December 25, 2023. All are welcome.
Download the full William Byrd 400th Anniversary Commemoration Program HERE