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10 minutes of unparalleled sacred music from William Byrd

J-P Mauro - published on 05/24/21

Voces8 puts on another masterful performance of Renaissance polyphony.

J.S. Bach may be the most influential composer of sacred music, and perhaps also the most prolific. William Byrd, however, may have him beat for beauty. Here, we have two sections of Byrd’s Liber Sacrarum Cantionum, or Book of Sacred Song.

Written in the 16th century, these are two of three hymns known as the Jerusalem Motets. According to Hyperion, Byrd drew from Psalm 137 for the lyrics. This brief triptych was a way to express his personal desperation towards the state of English Catholicism. The Dissolution of English monasteries took place about 50 years before Byrd published the work.

Using a cascading melody, Byrd creates a reverent atmosphere without rival. Each time one voice part finishes a line, another picks it up to continue. This is the style that music historians refer to when they talk about the Renaissance-era polyphony.

Each voice part carries its own melody, but when sung together they form a larger melody. In this, it is like a community at prayer. Each part comes together to make a product greater than its parts

Voces8 puts on a thrilling performance of the piece, bringing an incredible sense of comfort through flawless dynamics. As always, the small chamber ensemble produces a sound that we thought could only be found in a large-scale choir. The grand sound is aided by the excellent acoustics of the Gresham Centre in London, which allows even their softest notes to reverberate for over a second. 

Sacred Music
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