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Lucy Matheson's Music Homework

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Lucy is Librarian at Lincoln College, Oxford, soprano, socialite and occasional allotment gardener.

My first introduction to William Byrd was aged 12, when asked for Music homework to write about him as a recusant composer. My clumsy attempt to create a few diary entries for him is, fortunately, lost to history, but that framing has shaped my relationship with him ever since. As someone baptised in but not brought up in the Catholic Church, his determination to keep the faith, right under Queen Elizabeth's nose, despite multiple imprisonments and risk of death, underscored for me the importance of what makes Catholicism distinctive. That he was only imprisoned indicates how profoundly moving his music is: the Queen refused to be without it.

Cover of William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices and Mass for Four Voices performed by the Choir of ChristChurch Cathedral, Oxford, directed by Simon Preston

Discovering the 1977 Christ Church/Preston LP of the four- and five-part masses in the school record library was when Byrd really became part of me. I listened to it again and again and was thrilled when I got to learn and perform the four-part Mass the following year. Would that I could tell Sixth Former me that my colleagues' refusal to do the Byrd/Tallis option for 'A' Level Music was actually a Good Thing! Not only were they not ruined for me, they have been central to my choral and spiritual life ever after, shaping my understanding of myself as a singer and as a Catholic.

Programme notes for William Byrd’s Choir of ChristChurch Cathedral, Oxford performance of Mass for Five Voices and Mass for Four Voices directed by Simon Preston

Lucy Matheson, 2022


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