Byrd 400: celebrating our great choral composer

Lincoln Cathedral is to host a series of events to celebrate the life and work of William Byrd, one of its most influential musicians who helped shape the musical culture of western Europe.

The Byrd 400 festival, marking the 400th anniversary of his death, takes place at the cathedral between 30th June and 4th July 2023. With performances and lectures by world-renowned groups of performers and academics, it is unique in its location; the very building in which Byrd performed day by day, and for which he wrote so much music.

The festival will have three strands:

  • A series of concerts and recitals, culminating in a late evening performance of some of Byrd’s most beautiful music by the cathedral choir and the world famous Tallis Scholars.
  • Music within the liturgy, in which the cathedral choir will be joined in singing its regular services by the Choir of Merton College Oxford and the Tallis Scholars.
  • An academic programme of lectures, featuring world-renowned specialists in the scholarship of the music of Byrd and his time.

Byrd was England’s most prolific and respected composer of the late Renaissance. His influence on our choral heritage is comparable to Shakespeare’s influence on the literary world – to this day Byrd’s sacred music is among that most commonly performed by parish and cathedral choirs.  A pioneer of several musical styles, Byrd taught many pupils, including Thomas Morley, Peter Philips and Thomas Tomkins, each of whom were to become famous composers and musicians in their own right.

Byrd in Lincoln

William Byrd was Master of the Choristers at the cathedral from 1563 to 1672, during which time he composed much music for the relatively newly translated services of the Church of England. Byrd married a local woman, and his family grew during the time that he lived in Minster Yard.  At a time when failing to follow wholeheartedly the practice of the Church of England was seen as a treason, Byrd was stubbornly Catholic and made no attempts to hide it. His wife and other members of his household were arrested several times for recusancy (failing to give up their Catholic practices), and later in life Byrd himself was placed under house arrest in 1585. However, the appreciation of his musical talent by Queen Elizabeth led to the dropping of any charges ‘by order of the Queen.’

Leaving Lincoln to become a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572, Byrd’s grew in reputation and fame until his retirement to Essex where he died on 4th July 1623.  On the day of his death, an entry in the chequebook of the Chapel Royal described him as “Wm. Bird, a Father of Musick.”

Byrd 400 at Lincoln Cathedral

The Byrd 400 festival will begin with an evening of music for harpsichord and chamber organ with madrigals in the Chapter House of Lincoln Cathedral performed by Jeffrey Makinson, Organist and Assistant Director of Music at Lincoln Cathedral and a consort of singers from Lincoln Cathedral Choir.

Through the following five days, the daily choral services sung by the Cathedral Choir will focus on Byrd’s liturgical music – much of which was written to be performed by the choir in this place. As with all services in the cathedral, there is no charge for admission.

The festival will conclude with an evening of fine Byrd music by Lincoln Cathedral Choir and the Tallis Scholars. Enjoy the acoustics of the cathedral nave as the choirs perform a full repertoire of Byrd music including Prevent us, O Lord, Sing joyfully and the Great Service Magnificat.

Alongside this, the Cathedral will host an academic symposium featuring lectures from some of the world’s most renowned Byrd scholars.

For more information, the full programme of events and to book your tickets visit the Lincoln Cathedral website – www.lincolncathedral.com