When Queen Mary died the Catholic Church as the spiritual home of the English people rapidly followed her into the grave. No doubt the more strongly protestant wing of the reformers hoped that the practice of setting Latin texts to music for religious purposes would quickly become a thing of the past and had Edward VI survived their wish may well have come to pass. However he died before he could make a major impact as did Mary. Elizabeth however lived and reigned more than long enough to fundamentally alter English society. She sought a compromise between her own Catholic inclinations and the reformers and one such compromise was that she permitted Latin-texted music to continue to be written and even sung in certain institutions such as Universities.
In 1575 she licensed Tallis and Byrd to ‘to imprint any and so many as they will of set songe or songes in partes, either in English, Latine,… or other tongues that may serue for musicke either in Churche or chamber’ for a period of twenty-one years and on Ascension day of that year (17 November) they presented her with the first copy of Cantiones Sacræ in token of their gratitude and celebrating the fact that she had now reigned for seventeen years. As a collection of music it’s a tour de force but two pieces in particular stand out Suscipe, quaeso Domine and Tribue, Domine. The text of Tribue, Domine is taken from a book of meditations attributed to Augustine, which perhaps somewhat surprisingly was popular both amongst Byrd’s fellow recusants and the more "protestant" wing of the reformers, just to keep everyone happy there’s some evidence that Elizabeth herself was both aware of and approved of its contents.
Byrd set the text using homophony, antiphonal writing and two-, three-, five- and six-part polyphony to maintain both momentum and interest as well staying musically close to the text’s meaning and intent. It’s very strongly reminiscent of a votive antiphon and is one of the first examples of a setting where he alternates between ‘full’ and ‘verse’ sections — a technique that he went on develop further to great most notably in Infelix ego.
William Byrd (±1539-1623): Tribue Domine
Tribue, Domine, ut donec in hoc fragili
Grant, O Lord, that while I am in this fragile
Te deprecor, supplico et rogo, auge fidem,
I pray, beseech and entreat you: increase my
Gloria Patri, qui creavit nos,
Glory be to the Father, who created us.
- Magnificat, conducted by Philip Cave