Byrd, William

About 1538-1623

Famous English composer, who was undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians of his time, as well as the finest organist of the day. Authorities differ in regard to the year of his birth and the details of his early history, and indeed the first really authentic fact of his life is his going as organist to Lincoln Cathedral in 1563. It is said that before this he studied under Tallis and was senior chorister at St. Paul's. In 1569 he was made a member of the Chapel Royal and in 1575 received the honorary title of organist thereof. In the same year Byrd and Tallis applied for and received from Queen Elizabeth an exclusive patent for printing and selling music and music paper, and on the death of Tallis, in 1585, this patent passed entirely into Byrd's hands. During the next few years Byrd composed a great deal. In 1588 he published Psalms, Sonets and Songs of Sadness and Pietie. In 1589, Songs of Sundrie Natures, some of Gravitie and Others of Mirth, and also a number of madrigals appeared. He is said to have been probably the first Englishman who wrote madrigals. In 1693 Byrd and the elder Ferrabosco, who were friendly rivals, published the results of a contest, in which each set a plain-song forty different ways. Unfortunately no copy of this has been preserved. In 1607 Byrd published the first and second books of the Gradualia, a collection of church motets, for the Catholic Ecclesiastical Year, and in 1611, Psalms, Songs and Sonnets. In addition to these works he wrote three masses and anthems.