King Charles has inspired a resurgence of interest in obscure Elizabethan composer William Byrd who escaped execution during his life despite writing dozens of masses for banned Catholics.
“It’s a journey of discovery for listeners, and for those who present it,” said top Radio 3 presenter Tom Service.
Radio 3 is devoting more than a dozen hours of music and documentaries about the works of Byrd this week to celebrate his 400th anniversary.
The composer’s music, totalling 470 compositions, was first championed by King Charles III at his Coronation — just like Elizabeth I’s patronage of Byrd in the 16th century.
Explains Service: “Byrd’s Mass For Four Voices was performed as part of the Coronation of King Charles III, music by a Catholic composer. That radicalism is still being heard, and the connection between Royalty and Byrd is still happening. It’s wonderful that he was part of the Coronation.”
Service revealed that Byrd wrote masses later in his life which were for “secretly observed masses, in houses such as Ingatestone, where he lived in Essex.”
He adds: “You hear a real urgency in these masses because you only had 20 minutes to observe mass.
“Some of the people with whom he worshipped were executed, basically for the crime of being Catholic. But Byrd was saved because of his connection with royalty.”
There are parallels for modern composers, says Service.
“We know of music making in the bunkers of Ukraine, even in Afghanistan where music can’t be made, only in secret.
“There are musicians who have to compose their work like this for fear of persecution of the most terrible kind.
“For those unfamiliar with Byrd’s works I recommend Masses for Three, Four or Five Voices. There’s a peacefulness and tranquillity to them but a kind of intensity, too.”
BBC Radio 3 marks William Byrd’s 400th anniversary with “Byrdsong” – a season of special programming across all schedules until Wednesday.