William Byrd

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William Byrd

William Byrd (* probably 1543 in Lincolnshire ; † July 6, 1623 in Stondon Massey / Essex , according to other sources: * 1538 ; † July 4, 1623 ) was an English composer and organist .


Byrd was the most important composer of William Shakespeare's time . His psalms and motets as well as his madrigals are among the most acclaimed compositions of the 16th century . He also wrote organ and piano works.

Since 1572 Byrd was organist at the Chapel Royal in London together with Thomas Tallis ; after his death he composed Ye sacred muses ( an elegy on the death of Thomas Tallis , 1585). He was an important Catholic church composer. His virginal compositions can be found in various collections, such as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and the Lady Nevills Book . As the most important musician of the Tudor period , he had the reputation of an "English Palestrina ". Byrd and Tallis received the monopoly privilege for printing music from Queen Elizabeth I of England. He was the teacher of Thomas Morley and Thomas Tomkins .

Choral music plays a central role in the 500 or so works of his oeuvre , with the majority of the works being 5- and 6-part. Byrd composed masses , motets, madrigals, canons , works for virginal and strings, and more.

Sound sample from "Fitzwilliam Virginal Book"


Works (selection)

  • Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur , London 1575 (together with Thomas Tallis )
  • Liber primus Sacrarum cantionum quinque vocum (for five voices), London 1589
  • Liber secundus Sacrarum cantionum (5-6 voices), London 1591
  • Gradualia (3-5 voices), London 1605
  • Gradualia , 2nd book (4-6 voices), London 1607


  • Edmund H. Fellowes: William Byrd. A short account of his life and work. 2nd Edition. Reprint. Oxford University Press, London et al. 1963.
  • John Harley: The world of William Byrd. Musicians, merchants and magnates. Ashgate, Farnham et al. 2010, ISBN 978-1-409-40088-2
  • Kerry McCarthy: Byrd. Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 2013, ISBN 978-0-19-538875-6 .

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