Critical mass

Byrd: Mass for 3 voices Pro Arte Singers. Paul Hillier

The opening of the Byrd 3-part mass.

The composer produced three settings of the liturgical text: in four parts (published 1592-93); three parts (1593-94) and five parts (1594-95). Since Catholicism was proscribed under Elizabeth I, they seem to have been intended for single voice performance at clandestine gatherings of fellow believers.

But, as the Byrd scholar John Harley writes, ‘it is unnecessary to share Byrd’s system of beliefs to wonder at the depth of his penetration into generally inaccessible realms of the mind …His Masses are among the great documents of human experience.’


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