Our CD of the month for July is William Byrd: The Great Service which was recorded by the Westminster Abbey Choir in February of 2005.  The recording was conducted by James O’Donnell and features Robert Quinney playing the Westminster Abbey organ.

William Byrd was born in England around 1540 and lived through the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I and James I, all of whom are buried in Westminster Abbey. He was famed as a Renaissance composer who wrote sacred music to be used in Anglican services. It is thought that he may have been a chorister as a child and his first known compositions can be seen to date back to his teenage years. Despite being raised as a Protestant and composing Anglican music he became known for his involvement with Catholicism from the 1570s onwards. Religion was still dividing society at this time following Henry VIII’s split from Rome and being a Catholic was seen as an act of rebellion against the crown. As such he did get into trouble with the authorities due to his associations with people involved in rebel movements such as the Throckmorton Plot and the Gunpowder Plot. 

William Byrd The Great Service

It is not known when or for whom William Byrd wrote his monumental ‘Great Service’, but it provides an excellent example of Anglican music from the Renaissance period. The Westminster Abbey Choir’s recording presents the service in its correct liturgical order and complements it with six of Byrd’s wonderful anthems and two organ voluntaries from My Lady Nevell Booke, a collection of Byrd’s keyboard music put together in 1591. A highlight of the CD aside from the fantastic service itself is the wonderful layered harmonies of ‘Prevent us, O Lord’.

 If you would like to enjoy more of the Westminster Abbey Choir’s recordings you can browse them by clicking here