Liz, Byrd and Recusancy

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Liz, Byrd and Recusancy

Post by Merseysider »

Delighted to read that my Number One pin-up girl, Elizabeth I, is to be back on our screens later this year. Cate Blanchett back in the role, eclipsing Ann-Marie Duff but will she be as good as Helen Mirren? No one could be as bad as Bette Davis in Elizabeth and Essex… but I digress.

I was interested to read in the Q&As that "Elizabeth herself enjoyed the use of Latin liturgy…she also supported Catholic composers such as William Byrd who composed (in the required styles) both for the Catholic and Reformed liturgies."

I understood that Byrd was one of Liz's favourites – wasn't he court composer? – but hadn't realised that although Elizabeth wouldn't "make a window into men's souls" she was liturgically tolerant.

If Byrd was so free to compose Latin polyphony, does that negate the theory that the 3- 4- and 5-part Masses were written for recusant services. There's a theory (can’t remember whose or where I read it – never been a great scholar) that they were written so that guests gathered in Catholic country houses for the weekend, could sing at Mass before retiring to the salon to sing madrigals in a similar style.

Anyone know anything about any of this?

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Post by Gwyn »

Asked M.,
Anyone know anything about any of this?

I don't. But I'm now intrigued and await a knowlegeable posting with baited breath.

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Post by presbyter »

I recommend a paper given (some time ago now) by Michael Hodgetts on Recusant Liturgy which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been published :(

Perhaps the magazine editors could contact him with a view to publication in M & L.

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Post by musicus »

Good idea, Presbyter: I will ask him.

Meanwhile, here is an very interesting article that sheds some light on the topic in hand:
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Post by dunstan »

presbyter wrote:I recommend a paper given (some time ago now) by Michael Hodgetts on Recusant Liturgy which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been published :(

Perhaps the magazine editors could contact him with a view to publication in M & L.

I'd be very interested in reading that. My ancestral home enjoyed weekly mass all through penal times, but I've never given much thought to the form of the liturgy at that time. I do know that my great great great grandfather installed an Angelus bell - described by my mother as "typical Vavasour male bloodymindedness", but I digress.
It's not a generation gap, it's a taste gap.

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Post by dmu3tem »

There are several detailed articles about Byrd's relationship with the government in specialist musical journals (though, offhand I cannot give precise details here). There have also been several papers on the subject at Royal Musical Society conferences. In particular, I remember a paper given last year showing connections between Byrd and the Paston family. The central points seem to be these;

(1) Byrd's wife was in more trouble as a recusant than he was.
(2) Byrd, like many Catholics, became more determinedly opposed to the regime later in life.
(3) Byrd found increasing difficulties at Lincoln due to the imposition of a more Calvinistic liturgical regime there.
(4) In the 1580s Byrd definitly composed several motets with double encoding, the hidden message for Catholics often being highly subversive. This possibility was first raised in the 1960s. These include support for Mary, Queen of Scots, the Armada, and Edmund Campion. 'Vigilate' is an excellent example of support for the Armada. In its encoded form it calls on Catholics to 'be ready' for the arrival of 'the master of the house' i.e. Philip II. Note the parallel with Shostakovich - another great 'encoder' (in his case criticising the Soviet regime). However, by their very nature such 'messages' are deniable; so it is perfectly reasonable to read them at a surface level and refuse to accept they have such hidden meanings. The discussion of different versions of a Byrd motet connected with the Paston family at the Royal Musical Society conference referred to above was particularly significant in this respect, since the music in question had two different sets of words. In this context, it is interesting that some of these 'encoded' motets were published by Byrd himself using his Royal monopoly -shared with Tallis - for music publishing! Tallis, by the way, is suspected - but with less evidence - of engaging in similar Catholic 'encoding'.
(5) This encoding was endemic to the age. Think how much meaning was conveyed to people through badges, or liveries of retainer, or coats of arms. It is also an age of secret messages and hidden ciphers. In music, the habit of 'word painting', especially in Madrigals, lent itself to such procedures; and don't forget the familiar Medieval cross-fertilisation between devotion to the Virgin Mary and your ladylove. Byrd was not the only composer who may have done this. Clemens Von Papa is thought to have done the same thing - but as a Protestant facing a persecuting Catholic regime! Tomkins, a pupil of Byrd, is another candidate, though, with him his encoding concerns the divide between Calvinists and Arminians, rather than between Catholics and Protestants.

Thomas Muir

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