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From Virgin's Womb/Rejoice, Rejoice

From Virgin's Womb/Rejoice, Rejoice

Byrd, William

Arr. Olson, Gary


  • Ensemble: Brass Quintet
  • Genre: Madrigal
  • Grade: 4
  • Duration: 2.5 minutes
  • Catalog Number: DB-CAN0121

William Byrd was one of the remarkable figures in the history of English music, a good example of how true genius can win influential admirers and how influential friends can protect from religious persecution. Although little is known of his early life, he was a pupil of Thomas Tallis. Early recognition of his ability let to his appointment as organist of the Lincoln Cathedral in 1553 at the age of 20. In September of 1568, he married Juliana Birley. When Robert Parsons drowned in the Trent River in 1569, Byrd took his place as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. In 1572, he joined his mentor Tallis as organist of the Chapel Royal. Both Byrd and Tallis found favor with the Queen. In January, 1575, they were granted a 21-year monopoly in music publishing. They must have been better musicians than businessmen, however, as they petitioned the Queen for annuity in addition to the monopoly, the petition was granted! When Tallis died in 1585, Byrd became sole proprietor of the business. By 1593, Byrd had become somewhat of a country gentleman, settling at Stondon, a two-hundred acre farm under lease from the Crown. His title to this land was finally established after 15 years of litigation.

William Byrd remained a devout Catholic through his life. Music transcends religion, however, and he remained a member of the Queen’s Chapel in spite of the extreme penalty imposed for religious beliefs considered so treasonous. Although he enjoyed the Queen’s protection even to the extent that he was given a farm confiscated from a Catholic sent to the Tower, his religious beliefs caused him significant inconvenience. In the late 1570’s he lived in Harlington and commuted to London over the notoriously bad roads of the day, a distance of eleven miles. As the Protestant reformers were headquartered in London, perhaps Byrd was invoking the principle of “out of sight, out of mind”. Nonetheless, he and his wife appeared regularly on the Bishop’s list of Popish Recusants for refusing to attend services of the Church of England. The disappearance of Juliana from the list and the subsequent appearance of Ellen suggest that Byrd’s first wife died in 1592.

William Byrd was widely esteemed by his contemporaries, and hailed as the “most celebrated musician and organist of the English Nation.” Beginning in 1575, with his collaboration with Thomas Tallis on the First Book of Cantiones Sacrae, his work encompassed all areas of music including music for the Anglican service, Catholic masses, motets, anthems, madrigalian pieces, and instrumental works. His output was prolific and is impressive, both in quantity and breadth. “From Virgin’s Womb” and “Rejoice, Rejoice” are taken from Songs of Sundrie Natures of 1589.

Instrumentation: 211.01

  1. From Virgin's Womb
  2. Rejoice, Rejoice

This work is part of our Denver Brass Signature Series.

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