William Byrd wasn’t the sort of man to think small. His move in 1593 to Stondon Massey meant that he and his family had the opportunity to hear the Mass in relative safety at the home of his patron Sir John Petre. Stondon Massey’s relative seclusion also meant that Byrd had the peace and quiet to bring to fruition his very ambitious plan to provide a complete cycle of music for the Liturgy and for and for extra-liturgical devotions in a terse style suited the requirements of his fellow recusants and of the Jesuit missionaries to England to whom Byrd was particularly close.
His settings of the Ordinary of the Mass published between 1593 and 1595 were the first part of this characteristically thorough and systematic scheme but it was the publication of two books of Gradualia published in 1605 and 1607 that was the culmination of this extraordinary – and extraordinarily brave, effort. It included a complete set of texts to be sung at Masses offered to the Virgin such as the votive Masses of the Virgin, which were often called ‘Lady Masses’ and were traditionally offered on Saturdays or Masses to be said on Feast days dedicated to the Virgin such as the Feast of the Visitation (2 July). Musically they’re low key but very rewarding and while they’re part of a set each of them is an individual piece of music carefully crafted to stand on its own merits. I’ll be posting a fair few of them over the next few months starting with Suscepimus Deus. Enjoy :-)