SWEMF workshop 4 March 2023

As this is the 400th anniversary of William Byrd’s death we had to have a workshop to celebrate this great English composer. (Loud cheers from many of our members I am sure). Clare had persuaded John Bryan to lead the day. As a professor of music and active teacher and player of early music, especially viols, he was ideal for the purpose.

John provided music which covered the many aspects of Byrd’s work, which ranged from music for the catholic mass, for Anglican church music to secular pieces as well as work by other composers (van Wilder, Tallis and Taverner) to give context to Byrd’s compositions. He gave us a well balanced mixture of historical information and information about the music. Philip van Wilder was a musician at the court of Henry VIII and his music would have been known to Byrd. Indeed the van Wilder chanson we sang and played sounded remarkably like the Laudate pueri Dominum by Byrd which turned out to be a Fantasia à 6, well loved (or otherwise) by the viol and recorder players. Although van Wilder is not well known now his work would reward exploration.

We had singers for all the parts required (up to 6 part pieces) and a good selection of viols and recorders to cover all the vocal lines. I was rather surprised to find that instruments would be allowed with the voices since Byrd’s religious music is usually performed without instruments. However there is a record of a recusant mass being performed ‘with instruments’. Although, as John pointed out, probably not with sackbuts and dulcians if they wanted to keep it quiet that a mass was being performed, but let’s see what it sounds like – this for the 2 sackbuts and 1 dulcian in the band. No one complained so it must have been all right for our workshop.

We had a splendid day of music in the church at Yatton which is well placed for road and rail connections. Unfortunately the church is large and the heating was not making a dent in the low temperature of the day. Luckily there is a modern chapter house, large enough for all our forces, and warmer, where we decamped for the afternoon session. This was a good place for a workshop, but probably only in the warmer months.

John gave us a well rounded exploration of Byrd and his music in the context of his time and influences, with plenty of playing and information to leave us wanting more in this anniversary year.

Many thanks to Clare for all her work in organising the day and to John for such an excellent workshop.

Fenella Spiers