No one really knows how William Byrd, for all that he was acknowledged at the time (and now) as the greatest English composer of his day, was able to write and publish music openly intended for the Catholic liturgy at a time when the practice of that faith was illegal in England. It is indeed possible that he was protected by the favour of Queen Elizabeth; but his most ‘Catholic’ collection, the Gradualia, was published in the more rabidly anti-Catholic period of James I’s reign—Volume 1, indeed (from which Alleluia – Ave Maria
comes), actually in the year of the Gunpowder Plot, 1605. Byrd’s intention in the Gradualia
was to provide music for all occasions of the Church’s year, and this motet is typical of many in the collection: concise, unostentatious and devout in expression, with a texture fluidly alternating between skilfully woven polyphony and simple block chords.
from notes by Collegium Records © 1992