John Taverner (1490-1545) and William Byrd (1540-1623) born a generation apart, both hailed from Lincolnshire, and left a collection of choral works that rank (with that of Thomas Tallis) as some of the finest of its age, or indeed any other.
Both men worked in turbulent times – the older Taverner grew up during the reign of Henry VII, and became Informator Choristarum at Cardinal College, Oxford – Cardinal Wolsey’s new college in the university. Here Taverner recruited 16 boys and 12 men for the choir.
He fell foul of the authorities, and was arrested for having Lutheran beliefs. Wolsey was lenient towards him, but the Cardinal’s fall caused Taverner to resign in 1530. The college was renamed Christ’s Church by Henry VIII.
William Byrd lived through even more febrile and dangerous political times – the rapid succession of monarchs from the Protestant Edward VI, to the Roman Catholic ‘Bloody’ Mary I, followed by the Protestant Elizabeth I – which made life a tightrope walk for any official. Unlike Taverner, Byrd was a devout Roman Catholic, but escaped arrest, possibly as he had close Royal connections. He became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royall, and with some cunning concern for political diplomacy as well as renown he composed music for the Anglican Church, while producing music for private use by Roman Catholics.
These CDs contain the three masses Byrd composed for 3, 4 and 5 voices, and Taverner’s great Mass of the Western Wind.
‘…all the works on this disc are great music presented with all the finesse for which the King’s choir is famous’ Gramophone, October 1962 (Taverner)
‘The performance of the Mass is a beautiful example of the sensitive and deeply musical singing that we have come to expect from King’s College Choir. There is admirable definition in the individual parts, and an overall blend of tone that comes more from perfect internal matching of tone-colour… This is spiritual refreshment indeed’. Gramophone, June 1960 (Byrd Mass for 5 voices)
“the interpretations are terrific, especially of Byrd's Mass a 4, and Taverner's Western Wind.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.