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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67533
Recording details: February 2005
Westminster Abbey, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Summerly
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2005
Total duration: 43 minutes 21 seconds

The Great Service
composer
SAATB SAATB (except Kyrie: SAATB)
author of text
Book of Common Prayer; Venite: Psalm 95; Benedictus: Luke 1: 68-79; Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55; Nunc dimittis: Luke 2: 29-32

Venite  [5'02] English
Te Deum  [8'34] English
Benedictus  [8'40] English
Kyrie  [1'01] English
Creed  [5'45] English
Magnificat  [9'25] English

Other recordings available for download
The Cardinall's Musick, Andrew Carwood (conductor)
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Great Service (Venite, Te Deum, Benedictus, Kyrie, Creed, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) was virtually unknown until its rediscovery by Edmund Fellowes in the manuscripts of Durham Cathedral in 1922. The earliest source for what Fellowes described as the ‘finest unaccompanied setting of the service in the entire repertory of English church music’ is in the hand of John Baldwin and dates from around 1606 which makes assigning a date of composition very difficult. It used to be thought that most of Byrd’s music for the English church was written during his time as organist of Lincoln Cathedral but this is too simplistic an assumption. The Great Service certainly sits firmly within the Elizabethan tradition of composition as established by Sheppard (especially in his Second Service to which Byrd makes reference), Parsons and Mundy. Yet the imitative style, the technical complexity and the way in which Byrd uses the various vocal scorings available to him (especially the divided treble voices) suggests that this piece belongs not to the Lincoln years but to some time later, perhaps the 1580s. For many choirs the sheer scope of this music and the lavish scoring for ten parts (SSAAAA TTBB) must have made it impossible to perform: few could have boasted sufficient numbers of singers for such an undertaking. There is perhaps only one Elizabethan institution which could have dealt with such a piece and that was the Chapel Royal; it may be that Byrd wrote it specifically for them.

Of the many sophisticated features of the Great Service, juxtaposition is one of the most important – verse singers set against full choir, higher voices against lower voices, homophony against imitation – all of which allows Byrd to have a tight control of the drama of the text. At the same time he revels in the full sonority of the ten-part scoring and fuses elements from all three service styles. The two sides of the choir (Decani and Cantoris) are pitted against each other in the manner of the ‘short’ services but not simply to provide variety but more often for dramatic effect. In the Te Deum Decani represents the ‘glorious company of the Apostles’ and Cantoris the ‘noble army of Martyrs’ and then both unite at the mention of the ‘holy Church throughout all the world’. Such full choir statements are always offset by more intimate sections for verses where Byrd will exploit the full range and colour of the voices, using three altos and a tenor in the Benedictus at the words ‘And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest’ and scattering the proud in the Magnificat not only ‘in the imagination of their hearts’ but audibly in the music.

from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2005


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