Music Notes for Third Sunday of Easter — April 14, 2024

Alleluia, Cognoverunt discipuli – William Byrd (1539/40 – 1623)

Click to watch video on Youtube

William Byrd’s greatest achievement in music publishing was his ambitious two-volume collection of the Gradualia, which contain settings of Mass Propers for the church year. This Sunday’s communion motet in church is Byrd’s setting of the Proper Alleluia for a votive Mass (a Mass offered for a special intention) during Paschal time. It is not known whether Byrd’s settings were intended to be performed in a liturgical framework, or indeed along with any of Byrd’s own Mass settings. In the political climate of the time, it is unlikely that they would have been performed by the Queen’s Chapel Royal, of which Byrd was a member from 1570; this leads to the supposition that they were designed for use in the chapel of a recusant household. Such households may well have been able to maintain a choir capable of meeting the extreme technical demands of the Gradualia, but it is likely that Latin music of the time was performed by small forces—even as few as one to a part—with a female voice singing the top line. However, this does not preclude the possibility that the sound Byrd himself imagined was that of his own choir of the men and boys of the Chapel Royal, had political circumstances permitted.

Alleluia. The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread.
Alleluia. My flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me: and I in them. Alleluia.

Gerald Harder