William Byrd (±1539-1623): Ad Dominum cum tribularer a8

byrd150x150captioneddsByrd’s eight-part setting of Ad Dominum cum tribularer (Unto the Lord in my distress) is one of his largest and most eloquent compositions. It’s poignant text speaking of persecution and injustice was perfect for setting as a musical cry from the heart bewailing the persecution of his fellow Catholics in a newly hostile and alien homeland. The opening plea in which each voice introduces the subject twice is the musical epitome of distress and it is not until we reach ‘et exaudivit me’  that Byrd eases us into a calmer mood. This doesn’t last for he then proceeds to illustrate musically the punishment with ‘sharp arrows’ and ‘searing coals’ of those who have a ‘deceitful tongue’.

The next section depicts the Psalmist’s – and by extension Byrd’s, enraged frustration and despair. He depicts this by using descending chromaticism punctuated by sharp suspensions at ‘Heu mihi …‘ (Woe is me …). The ending is just as painful with Byrd’s pleas for peace falling on deaf ears and barely contained thunderous wrath as he depicts in the final verse how when he spoke for peace he was greeted with a unanimous shout for war. It’s sung below by the Cardinall’s Musick conducted by Andrew Carwood. Enjoy :-).


Text & Translation: Ad Dominum cum tribularer a8

LatinEnglish 1
Ad Dominum cum tribularer clamavi, et exaudivit me.I cried unto the Lord in my distress, and he heard me.
Domine, libera animam meam a labio mendacii, et a lingua dolosa.Lord, Deliver thou my soul from falsehood’s lip and a deceitful tongue.
Quid detur tibi, aut quid apponatur tibi, ad linguam dolosam?What should be served unto you, or to what should you be put, to a deceitful tongue?
Sagitte potentis acute, cum carbonibus desolatoriis.Sharp arrows of the mighty, and coals that lay waste.
Heu mihi! quia incolatus meus prolongatus est; habitavi cum habitantibus Cedar.Woe is me! That my sojourn was prolonged; I have lived amongst the inhabitants of Cedar.
Multum incola fuit anima mea.Much has my soul dwelt there.
Cum his qui oderunt pacem eram pacificus.With those who hate peace, I was a peacemaker.
Ego pacem loquebar, et illi bellum conclamabant.I spake peace, and together they shouted for war.

Text & Translations: Psalm 119 in the Vulgate

VulgateDouai-Rheims1662 Book of common prayer
canticum graduumA gradual canticleAd Dominum
Ad Dominum in tribulatione mea clamavi et exaudivit meIn my trouble I cried to the Lord: and he heard me.WH E N I was in trouble I called upon the Lord:
and he heard me.
Domine libera animam meam a labio mendacii a lingua dolosaO Lord, deliver my soul from wicked lips, and a deceitful tongue.Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips:
and from a deceitful tongue.
quid detur tibi aut quid adponatur tibi ad linguam dolosam:What shall be given to thee, or what shall be added to thee, to a deceitful tongue?What reward shall be given or done unto thee, thou false tongue:
sagittae potentis acutae cum carbonibus iuniperorumThe sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals that lay waste.even mighty and sharp arrows, with hot burning coals.
heu mihi quia peregrinatio mea prolongata est habitavi cum tabernaculis CedarWoe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged! I have dwelt with the inhabitants of Cedar:Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech:  and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar.
multum peregrinata est anima mea cum odientibus pacemMy soul hath been long a sojourner.My soul hath long dwelt among them:
that are enemies unto peace.
ego pacifica loquebar et illi bellantiaWith them that hated peace I was peaceable: when I spoke to them they fought against me without cause.I labour for peace, but when I speak unto them thereof:
they make them ready to battle.
  1. My translation – mfi

2 thoughts on “William Byrd (±1539-1623): Ad Dominum cum tribularer a8

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *