'Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors' in the BBC TV series 'Sacred Music' is a programme I would never tire of seeing. It is on BBC FOUR at 7.30pm this evening and, of course, available on the BBC I Player for a week afterwards. Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585) and William Byrd (c1540 - 1623) were both Essex composers.
I wrote this immediately after the programme's first showing on 4 April 2008:
"Programme three in the series 'Sacred Music' has just had its first broadcast on BBC FOUR. Entitled 'Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors', we learned about these two Elizabethan Catholic composers who lived and worked in Essex.
"Tallis worked for the Anglican Church following the dissolution of Waltham Abbey where he was organist between 1538 and 1540. He composed such pieces as 'If Ye Love Me', simply because as a musician this was the art professionally required of him at the time. The Church was the only place for his creativity.
"Byrd, the younger of the two men, was quite a different character. He was a closet Catholic writing subversive liturgy for families such as the Petres at Ingatestone Hall. The present Lord Petre was interviewed at his home and viewers were shown paintings of William Petre, the first Baron and canny Tudor Secretary to the monarchs, then John, William's son and patron of Byrd. The Petre family were keen musicians and invited Byrd to Ingatestone Hall at Christmas 1585 for merrymaking and the odd secret Catholic mass. Byrd's settings of the Mass for Three, Four and Five Voices (part of the Mass for Four Voices sung by The Sixteen at Ingatestone Hall) are deliberately written for an intimate, domestic area. This is dangerous music.
"The choice of Byrd's home at Stondon Massey, after the London Plague of 1592, seems to have been a deliberate hideaway from prying villagers and a walk across country to what was a hotbed of recusancy in the nearby village of Kelvedon Hatch.
"Byrd is portrayed as a 'protest singer' in the composition of 'Why do I with paper, ink and pen' - a reaction to Edmund Campion's execution / martyrdom at Tyburn - and in the writing of 'How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land' (in Latin) to that Psalm 'By the Rivers of Babylon' (no don't mention Boney M please!).
"These were indeed turbulent times! Repeated fines for recusancy and maybe anonymous burial at nightfall in the churchyard at Stondon Massey.
"A really great film. Will watch the repeat!"
Originally published on Blackmore Area Local History blog