“For Byrd’s anniversary I wanted to highlight a part of his personality that is little understood: his courageous activism.” —Bill Barclay, Concert Theatre Works
400 years ago, William Byrd was a Catholic at the pinnacle of the musical world of Protestant England. In 2023, the Concert Theatre Works presented Secret Byrd marking the 400th anniversary of Byrd’s death through concerts and partnerships on both sides of the Atlantic. Secret Byrd tells about this fascinating historical moment through the life of the recusant composer William Byrd, staging of his Mass in 5 Voices, contextualized with interviews, commentary, and musical works by ensembles such as Stile Antico, Fretwork, and Gesualdo Six.
Queen Elizabeth, an avid musician herself, recognized and supported William Byrd as one of the greatest composers of her time. Through his diplomacy, talent, and hard work, Byrd managed to lead a double life, maintaining the favor of the Queen while acting as the musical figurehead of the Catholic community during a time when being Catholic was a death sentence. Born in 1540, Byrd’s career spanned almost 60 years and more than 500 works, with many of them still heard in today’s concert halls.
At the height of his fame, he composed three intimate masses to worship the old Latin rite, defiantly at odds with Protestant law, all but daring those in power to make an example of him.
Listen to the program: