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Sat, 10 Jun

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Magdalene College, Cambridge

William Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae (1589)

A consort of singers from The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge presents a selection of motets from William Byrd's 'Cantiones Sacrae' (1589).

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William Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae (1589)
William Byrd: Cantiones Sacrae (1589)

Time & Location

10 Jun 2023, 20:00

Magdalene College, Cambridge, Magdalene St, Cambridge CB3 0AG, UK

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About the event

A consort of singers from The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge presents a selection of motets from William Byrd's 'Cantiones Sacrae' (1589).

Byrd's collections of motets, the 'Cantiones Sacrae', published in 1589 and 1591, contain some of his most affective and personal music. Written at a time when being Catholic was potentially punishable by death, the Cantiones set some incredible texts which subversively lament the state of Christendom in Tudor England. 

Of the eight motets in the concert, 'Deus venerunt gentes' is by far the most political. The motet sets the first four verses of Psalm 79 which, in itself, is innocuous. However, in the context of the 1581 executions of Edmund Campion, Alexander Bryant, and Ralph Sherwin, who were hanged, drawn and quartered, and whose bodies were left in the open on Tyburn Hill, the phrase "They have made the carcasses of thy servants, meat for the fowls of the air: the flesh of thy saints for the beasts of the land" is particularly poignant.

The concert ends with the most famous, and to many, the most moving, motet of the collection, 'Ne irascaris'. Unlike many of the other motets in the collection, 'Ne irascaris' does not contain a change in tone for the second half of the text to something more uplifting. Instead, Byrd sets the threefold lament "Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta. Sion deserta facta est, Jerusalem desolata est." to the most achingly gorgeous music, wallowing in melancholy and despair.

The full programme is as follows:

Domine, praestolamur

O Domine adjuva me

Tristitia et anxietas

Memento Domine

Vide Domine afflictionem

Deus venerunt gentes

Vigilate

Ne irascaris

Performers:

Matthew Monaghan

Joseph Hancock

Carlos Rodríguez Otero

David McIntyre

Henry Montgomery

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