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Roots and Branches: How choral music from the Renaissance still flowers in the present

Performance Details: Saturday, 25th of February, 2023 at 7:00pm
Venue:Meeting House, University of Sussex, Falmer

Join us for this exciting collaboration between Brighton Consort and University of Sussex Chamber Choir as we explore the connections between Renaissance composers, William Byrd chief among them, and later composers who were inspired by their writing. We use common texts to link together chains of influence, and present some familiar favourites and hidden gems, all in the beautiful surroundings of Meeting House on the University of Sussex Falmer campus.

More information

Travel and parking at Meeting House

The 'Venue:' link above will open Google Maps with Meeting House selected. The what3words address for the main door of the building is ///bolt.crate.evenly{target="_blank"}.

Helpful warning: If you search for 'Meeting House' in Google Maps (rather than click on the link above) you may receive more than one result, only one of which is correct! If you don't know where Meeting House is, please leave a little extra time to navigate the University of Sussex campus.

Parking is free on a Saturday on campus, the nearest car park is ‘Car Park 4’ which is accessed from Southern Ring Road, and is opposite the Sussex House building, but any car park would do. The postcode for Sussex House is BN1 9RN. The nearest bus stop is ‘Sussex House’ which is on the 23 and 25 bus routes. It is then a 3 minute walk to Meeting House.

Concert Programme

Combined choirs:

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices - Kyrie & Gloria

University of Sussex Chamber Choir:

Byrd - Ave verum corpus Thomas Tallis - If ye love me Tallis - O nata lux Thomas Morley - Nolo mortem

Brighton Consort:

Byrd - In manus tuas
Tallis - In manus tuas
Morley - Now is the month of maying
Gustav Holst - Now is the month of maying

Combined choirs:

Byrd - Mass for Four Voices - Credo


Combined choirs:

Byrd - Mass for Four Voices - Sanctus & Benedictus

University of Sussex Chamber Choir:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Ave verum corpus
Camille Saint-Saëns - Ave verum corpus
William H Harris- Holy is the true light
Dan Forrest - Benedictus

Brighton Consort:

Orlando Gibbons - As on the night
Gibbons / Ralph Vaughan Williams- Drop, drop slow tears
William Walton - A Litany: Drop, drop slow tears
Jonathan Dove - Into thy Hands

Combined choirs:

Byrd- Mass for Four Voices - Agnus Dei

Programme note

Welcome to this unique and exciting concert, where Brighton Consort and University of Sussex Chamber Choir collaborate for the first time. We worked together on this programme to mirror this idea of collaboration, finding different ways of showing collaboration and influence between composers across time, nationality, and through using shared tools like setting common texts and drawing on shared religious and liturgical understanding.

As perhaps the most influential English composer of the Renaissance, we chose to centre tonight’s programme on the work of William Byrd, and in particular his famous Mass for Four Voices. 2023 also marks 400 years since Byrd’s death, and this concert will be one of many given by different choirs from around the world this year, commemorating his genius. Byrd was an English composer of great renown even in his own day, who lived in London before moving to the surrounding counties, chiefly Essex and the town of Ingatestone in particular. Byrd was a Catholic, which was a difficult and dangerous thing to be in the time of Elizabeth I and her Protestant reign. However, due to his position as a favourite of Elizabeth, as well as careful and considered interactions and networking at court - and his undoubted talent as a musician and composer - Byrd managed to escape both persecution and execution, unlike many of his peers! As he was unable to practise his faith in public, his Mass for Four Voices was written in the early 1590s to be sung at secretive Catholic services conducted behind closed doors, after he’d moved his family from London to Essex to be less conspicuous for his and their safety. Despite this constant religious fear, he wrote some of the most famous and enduring pieces of his day during this time.

As a boy and throughout the early part of his career, before his move away from London, Byrd studied with Thomas Tallis. He was Tallis’ apprentice and became a lifelong friend and business partner. Tallis and Byrd served together as liturgical musicians in the court of Elizabeth I and were employed at the Chapel Royal as organists from 1570. In 1575 Elizabeth gave them jointly a royal patent for music publishing in Britain resulting in a monopoly over the publication, importing, printing, and sale of music, even down to literally printing sheet music paper itself. This patent lasted for 21 years until 1596, even after Tallis’ death in 1585. In 1587, this patent was taken up by another promising English composer of the generation after Byrd, Thomas Morley.

Morley studied with Byrd in his teens, while a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, before becoming organist there. It’s unclear whether Morley was a Catholic or Protestant himself, but there is evidence he was an informer for the authorities, helping them in their persecution of Roman Catholics. Morley is famous for being involved in the development and popularisation of the English madrigal, and in fact the process of ‘Englishing’ Italian madrigals that was common in the early 17th century.

After both choirs join together to sing the opening two movements of Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, University of Sussex Chamber Choir will sing four of these composers’ most loved works, starting with Byrd’s Ave verum corpus, and moving through his predecessor Tallis’ works If ye love me and O nata lux, to his pupil Morley’s Nolo mortem peccatoris.

Brighton Consort will also present works by these three English Renaissance composers (Tallis, Byrd, and Morley), but will also introduce the idea, later taken up by University of Sussex Chamber Choir, of tracing different settings of the same text. Again starting with Byrd, Brighton Consort begins with a lesser-known setting by him of a Compline text In manus tuas. Byrd’s setting here is unique in that both top voices are equal in range and importance, resulting in an interesting SSTB choral texture. Following this is Tallis’ much more well-known In manus tuas setting, coming from the famous joint publication by Tallis and Byrd of 1575 entitled Cantiones Sacrae, the first printed book of music to be created in England. Thomas Morley’s most famous madrigal in modern times is Now is the month of maying, complete with its repeated and emphasised ‘fa la la la’ sections. Gustav Holst no doubt was inspired by both the structure and mood of Morley’s setting when he wrote his Now is the month of maying, this fitting in with Holst’s wider interest in Elizabethan and Jacobean music, along with his friend and colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The first half finishes with both choirs joining again to sing the Credo movement from Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. This is the longest and most emotionally diverse text of the mass, and the strength of Byrd’s convictions as a Catholic are on display here, especially in his excitement at the prospect of Christ rising from the dead on the third day (et resurrexit tertia die), him ascending to heaven (et ascendit in caelum), and the life of the world to come (vitam venturi saeculi).

The second half again begins with both choirs singing together, this time in the Sanctus & Benedictus movements of Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, sung liturgically immediately before the Blessed Sacrament of bread and wine is distributed at a traditional Catholic mass.

Placing this movement here gives context for the next set of pieces, during which University of Sussex Chamber Choir will focus on different versions of the ‘Ave verum corpus’ text, to be said or sung during the blessing of the bread and wine itself, a place in the ceremony known as the ‘Elevation’. Dating back to the 13th century, the prayer Ave verum corpus is thought to have been written by one of four Pope Innocents from that century, and tonight University of Sussex Chamber Choir presents some of the different ways composers have set this text in the centuries since then - from Byrd in the Renaissance in 1605, which was sung in the first half to introduce the concert, through to Mozart in 1791, and Saint-Saëns in 1865.

Mozart’s fame and biography are such that rehearsing them here for you isn’t necessary. His setting of Ave verum corpus was composed toward the end of his short life as a present for the choirmaster at a church in Baden, where Mozart’s wife Constanze was convalescing at the spa there. The paper on which the manuscript was written is of the same batch used by Mozart for the The Magic Flute, suggesting he ‘took a break’ from the larger work to pen this short masterpiece as a small gesture to a friend. This intimacy is immediately obvious in this work, and it has become one of the most widely performed choral works in modern times, by choirs all over the world.

Camille Saint-Saens taught at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, founded in 1853 with the deliberate purpose of raising the standard of church music in France. Students were given a strong foundation in Gregorian chant and sixteenth-century counterpoint, and this is reflected in Saint-Saëns' own church compositions. His setting of Ave verum corpus follows both Byrd and Mozart in a mainly homophonic, simple declamation of the text, relying on harmonic creativity instead.

The English 20th-century composer William H Harris displays his clear Renaissance influences in this short anthem, Holy is the true light. To continue with the theme of royal music connections throughout the years, Harris was involved in the music education of Queen Elizabeth II as a teenager, encouraging her and Princess Margaret to sing Renaissance madrigals at Windsor alongside choral scholars from Eton School and singers from the Grenadier Guards. It is likely, given its fame, that one of these would have been Morley’s Now is the month of maying.

University of Sussex Chamber Choir’s last piece will be a modern day setting of the Benedictus, highlighting how choral music has changed in comparison to the way Byrd set this text in his Mass, which we sang at the start of the second half tonight. The Benedictus text has always been a staple part of the Mass service, part of what is called the Ordinary of the Mass (the familiar Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei texts) and this version is by Dan Forrest, an American composer based in South Carolina.

Orlando Gibbons was in the last generation of what might be considered the English Renaissance, and indeed some of his later work prefigured the early Baroque in England. Gibbons was not yet 2 years old when the famous joint publication by Tallis and Byrd of 1575 was published and when Morley’s influential music education treatise A plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke was released, Gibbons was still a boy chorister. He nonetheless stood on the shoulders of these giants and took the English style to new levels of sophistication and refinement. It is where his story gets intertwined with that of 20th-century composers where we find the repertoire for tonight’s concert, however. Ralph Vaughan Williams, probably the most famous English composer of the first half of the 20th century, was obsessed by the music of his Tudor and Jacobean predecessors. He studied their music academically and in fact based his own compositional style on their approach to harmony, in contrast to the prevailing trends in continental Europe at the time. As a researcher, he was fascinated by folk music and parish church music, editing and producing The English Hymnal in 1906. One of the most famous of the many famous tunes Vaughan Williams collected is known as Song 46 and is attributed to Orlando Gibbons. Gibbons actually only wrote the soprano and bass line to this music, with Vaughan Williams supplying the middle parts, a practice he employed in much of the music found in The English Hymnal. The music Vaughan Williams used comes from The Hymnes and Songs of the Church, a collection of mainly texts with a few musical pieces included, published by George Wither in 1623. In that collection, Song 46 is actually a text, with no music included, and those are the familiar words ‘Drop, drop slow tears and bathe those beauteous feet.’ The Gibbons music Vaughan Williams arranged comes in fact from Song 47 in that collection, but the text associated with that music is different: As on the night is a Christmas text. Brighton Consort will sing tonight first the full Gibbons music with the text as it originally appears, followed by the Vaughan Williams ‘version’ of this music that we are much more familiar with. This will lead us to explore more 20th-century music, first following the trail of the ‘Drop, drop slow tears’ text to William Walton’s A Litany. A generation younger than Holst and Vaughan Williams, Walton wrote this piece while a 14 year old choirboy at Christ Church Oxford, at perhaps the same age that Gibbons was when he first encountered the work of Morley centuries earlier. Finally, like Sussex University Chamber Choir before us, Brighton Consort finishes off this set with a more modern setting of an old text, this time related to the In manus tuas settings of the first half. Jonathan Dove, a contemporary English composer, chose ‘Into thy Hands’ as his text for this much-loved piece. While the first three words are a direct translation of 'In manus tuas', Renaissance settings of which you heard Brighton Consort sing in the first half, the text here then departs from its liturgical model, as its author, mediaeval English priest St Edmund of Abingdon, used the idea of entrusting all of life’s cares into the hands of God as the basis for his own poetry which Dove set to music centuries later.

After so much criss-crossing of centuries, influences, and inspiration it of course makes sense to end where we began, with both choirs singing together the music of William Byrd, in his Mass for Four Voices. It is of course very helpful that the final page and a half of the Agnus Dei movement contains some of the most exquisite music written during the Renaissance, if not at any time! Musicians of all eras have always borrowed from and paid homage to one another in their music, and we as modern performers are no different in that from our Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th-century composer predecessors. Collaboration lies at the very heart of our art.

Programme notes written by Hannah Folkes and Greg Skidmore

Texts and translations

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices: Kyrie

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices: Gloria

Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Et in terra pax hominibus
bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te, benedicimus te,
Adoramus te, glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
Miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
Suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
miserere nobis.
Quoniam tu solus sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
Tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe.
Cum Sancto Spiritu
in gloria Dei Patris, Amen.

Glory to God in the highest,
And peace on earth to men
of good will.
We praise you, we bless you,
We worship you, we glorify you.
We give you thanks
for Your great glory.
Lord God, King of Heaven,
God the Father Almighty.
Lord only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.
You who take away the sin of the world,
Have mercy on us.
You who take away the sin of the world,
Hear our prayer.
You who sit at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.
For you alone are holy,
you alone are Lord,
you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ.
With the Holy Spirit
in the glory of God the Father, Amen.

William Byrd - Ave verum corpus

13th century chant

Ave verum corpus,
natum de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine
cuius latus perforatum
fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.
O Jesu dulcis, O Jesu pie,
O Jesu, fili Mariae.
Miserere mei. Amen.

Hail, true Body,
born of the Virgin Mary,
having truly suffered, sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
from whose pierced side
water and blood flowed:
Be for us a foretaste
in the trial of death!
O sweet Jesus, O holy Jesus,
O Jesus, son of Mary,
have mercy on me. Amen.

Thomas Tallis - If ye love me

John 14:15-17, William Tyndale’s (c.1494-1536) translation of the Bible

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And I will pray the Father,
And he shall give you another comforter,
That he may 'bide with you forever;
E’en the sp’rit of truth.

Thomas Tallis - O nata lux

10th century hymn

O nata lux de lumine,
Jesu redemptor saeculi,
Dignare clemens supplicum
Laudes precesque sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi
Dignatus es pro perditis,
Nos membra confer effici
Tui beati corporis.

O Light born of Light,
Jesus, redeemer of the world,
with loving-kindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.
Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of thy blessed body.

Thomas Morley - Nolo mortem peccatoris

John Redford (c.1500-1547)

“Nolo mortem peccatoris”; Haec sunt verba Salvatoris.
Father I am thine only Son, sent down from heav’n mankind to save.
Father, all things fulfilled and done according to thy will, I have.
Father, my will now all is this: “Nolo mortem peccatoris.”
Father, behold my painful smart, taken for man on ev’ry side;
Ev'n from my birth to death most tart, no kind of pain I have denied,
but suffered all, and all for this: “Nolo mortem peccatoris.”

Translation of the Latin:
"I do not wish the death of a sinner." These are the words of the Saviour.

William Byrd - In manus tuas

Psalm 31 (Vulgate 30), verse 6

In manus tuas, Domine,
commendo spiritum meum.
Redemisti me Domine,
Deus veritatis.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis.

Into your hands, O Lord,
I commend my spirit.
You have redeemed me, O Lord,
God of truth.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us.

Thomas Tallis - In manus tuas

Text and translation as above

Thomas Morley - Now is the month of maying

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing,
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Fa la la la la la la lah.
Each with his bonny lass
A-dancing on the grass.
Fa la la la la la la la la.

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter's sadness,
Fa la la, etc...
And to the bagpipe's sound
The nymphs tread out the ground.
Fa la la, etc...

Fie then, why sit we musing,
Youth's sweet delight refusing?
Fa la la, etc...
Say, dainty nymphs and speak,
Shall we play barley break?
Fa la la etc...

Gustav Holst - Now is the month of maying

Text and translation as above

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices: Credo

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum
Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
et ex patre natum
ante omnia saecula,
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri;
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de coelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto,
ex Maria virgine;
et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis
sub Pontio Pilato,
passus et sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die
secundum Scripturas,
et ascendit in coelum,
sedet ad dexteram Patris,
et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos,
cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum,
et vivificantem,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit,
qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur,
et conglorificatur,
qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Et unam sanctam catholicam
et apostolicam Eccelsiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma
in remissionem peccatorum,
et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.

I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
And in one Lord
Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
before all worlds,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
Who for us
and for our salvation
came down from heaven.
He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit
from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried.
He rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
he will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son;
with the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one holy catholic
and apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins;
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices: Sanctus

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosannah in the highest.

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices: Benedictus

Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Osanna in excelsis.

Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosannah in the highest.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Ave verum corpus

Text and translation as above

Camille Saint-Saëns - Ave verum corpus

Text and translation as above

William H Harris - Holy is the true light

from the Salisbury Diurnal translated by George Herbert Palmer (1846-1926)

Holy is the True Light, and passing wonderful,
lending radiance to them that endured in the heat of the conflict,
from Christ they inherit a home of unfading splendour,
wherein they rejoice with gladness evermore.

Dan Forrest - Benedictus

Robert Charles Sproul (1939-2017)

Benedictus, Blessed is our Lord, Welcome His Incarnate Word.

Chosen first among the priests to serve within the temple walls,
Zacharius stood in awe when he heard the angel call.
Benedictus, Blessed is our Lord, Welcome His Incarnate Word.

“Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, will come to raise salvation’s horn.
God incarnate, Word made flesh, to a virgin shall be born.”
Benedictus, Blessed is our Lord, Welcome His Incarnate Word.

Christ brings light to sin’s dark night: our Dayspring, Jesus from on high.
Saints and angels sing God’s praise, all the earth and heaven reply:
Benedictus, Blessed is our Lord, Welcome His Incarnate Word.

Orlando Gibbons - As on the night

George Wither (1588-1667)

As on the Night before this happie Morne,
A blessed Angell unto Shepheards told,
Where (in a Stable) he was poorely borne,
Whom, nor the earth nor Heav’n of heav’ns can hold
Through Bethlem rung this newes at their returne;
Yea, Angells sung, that God with us was born:
And they made mirth, because we should not mourne.

Their Angells-Caroll sing wee then;
To God on high all glory bee,
For Peace on earth bestoweth hee,
And showeth Favour unto men.

This favour Christ vouchsafed for our sake,
To buy us Thrones, hee in a Manger lay.
Our weaknes tooke, that we his strength might take,
And was disrob’d, that hee might us aray,
Our flesh hee wore, our Sinne to weare away.
Our Curse hee bore, that wee escape it may,
And wept for us, that wee might sing for aye.

With Angells therfore, sing agen;
To God on high all glory bee;
For Peace on Earth bestoweth hee:
And showeth Favour unto Men.

Orlando Gibbons / Ralph Vaughan Williams - Drop, drop slow tears

Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650)

Drop, drop, slow tears,
and bathe those beauteous feet,
which brought from Heav’n
the news and Prince of Peace.

Cease not, wet eyes,
his mercies to entreat;
to cry for vengeance:
sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods
drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye see
sin, but through my tears.

William Walton - A Litany: Drop, drop slow tears

Text and translation as above

Jonathan Dove - Into thy Hands

St Edmund of Abingdon (c.1174-1240)

Into thy hands, O Lord and Father,
we commend our souls and our bodies,
our parents and our homes,
friends and kindred.
Into thy hands, O Lord and Father,
we commend our benefactors and brethren departed.
Into thy hands, O Lord and Father,
we commend all thy people faithfully believing,
and all who need thy pity and protection.
Enlighten us with thy holy grace
and suffer us never more to be separated from thee.

Lord Jesus Christ,
mercifully grant to me that the rest of my pilgrimage
may be directed according to thy will,
that the rest of my life may be completed in thee
and my soul may deserve to enjoy thee
who art eternal life for ever.

William Byrd - Mass for Four Voices: Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
grant us peace.