Sunday, 14 September 2008

Byrd clues

William Byrd’s signature (spelt Wyllyam Byrde - so it would be more logical to spell him William Bird today) is in the Cathedral Accounts in the 1560s. It is beautifully set out complete with the same curls beneath it as those beneath the well known signature of Elizabeth I. The other signatures in lines above and below are, by contrast, either scrawled or simply marks. It was on display when we went to the Cathedral Library on Friday evening to hear a short lecture about him followed by a short harpsichord recital of his works which including a wonderful representation of a battle right down to the clashing of the armies.

Byrd was the Cathedral’s Organist and Choirmaster for nine years from 1563 (when he was just 23) until 1572 (when he obtained a position at the Chapel Royal where he may have sung as a boy). The lecturer reminded us that he was suspended for a while in 1569, apparently for playing music too elaborate for the taste of the clergy, and this may well link to his continued Catholic commitment and may also link to his taking the opportunity to move back to London three years later.

This all happens to relate to my recent posts about Roger Dalyson who would have been the Precentor when Byrd was appointed Organist but who was ejected two years later because of his Catholic commitment. The Cathedral Librarian pointed out that both the Dean who appointed Byrd and Dalyson (and also the Subdean, who was also ejected in 1565) had been appointed under Mary I, so they may have provided a congenial base for Byrd when he arrived in 1563 but wouldn’t have been able to give him any support by 1569 when more Puritan minded staff suspended him.

By 1572 Byrd’s position as a Catholic would have been even more dangerous (the Papal Bull which encouraged Catholics to overthrow Elizabeth I was issued in 1570) so it is strange if her Chapel Royal did in fact provide him with a safer berth than Lincoln, especially as the anti-Puritan (and Grimsby born) future Archbishop John Whitgift would have just become Dean of Lincoln.

Anyway, Byrd, having left Lincoln aged 32, lived and composed safely into his 80s. The present Assistant Organist, who gave the recital, added a few thought to the lecture and was very careful to point out Byrd’s influence on subsequent Low Country composers and their influence in turn on Bach.

Meanwhile I'd still like to know more about Dalyson. What did he do between the suppression of Thornton Collegiate Church under Edward VI and his appointment as Precentor of Lincoln under Mary I? What did he do after he was ejected as Precentor under Elizabeth I?

The photograph was taken from beneath the Cathedral Library a short while ago when the cloister was being set up for the performance of the Lincoln Mystery Plays.

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