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Hyperion Records

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Phoenix. A glass window specially designed, made and photographed by Malcolm Crowthers.
Track(s) taken from CDS44461/7
Recording details: March 1992
Ingatestone Hall, Ingatestone, Essex, United Kingdom
Produced by Edward Kershaw
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: September 1999
Total duration: 8 minutes 56 seconds

The Second Ground, BK42
composer
Nevell (No 30). [Neighbour, p 126]

Introduction  EnglishFrançais
Here is one of Byrd’s finest compositions. The title derives from the fact that in the only source the first work in ground form is My Ladye Nevell’s Ground (BK57); this is thus the second one in the manuscript. The work’s presence in Nevell confirms that it had been composed by 1591, and probably by 1580. Like Hugh Ashton’s Grownde, it is based on a pre-existent bass, in the present case one in C major (Ionian mode) known as ‘Goodnight’. Byrd had already used the same bass for his Prelude and Ground for 5-part consort, but this quite independent keyboard piece is even more satisfying structurally, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. The fact that the ground tune itself is genuinely melodic, rather than just outlining a chordal scheme, gives Byrd the opportunity not only to explore an astonishing range of harmonic variety but also to use the ground tune as a treble melody in the second half of the piece.

This bass melody is a ‘long’ ground (it lasts for twelve bars). There are two 4-bar phrases, the end of each of which is marked by a little 2-bar phrase of different character, creating a most original ‘4+2, 4+2’ form for each variation. The 2-bar phrases are either quiet in the context of a loud variation or loud in the context of a quiet one; or perhaps slow in a fast one or fast in a slow one; or triplets after duplets, duplets after triplets, etc. Particularly notable is the moment at the start of Variation 12 when Byrd lifts the ground melody out of the bass and into the treble. (A comparably striking use of the same effect occurs in Bach’s organ Passacaglia.) It stays there until the end of the work, although the little 2-bar interruptions remain in the bass, adding a still further element of contrast. Such features give a uniquely discursive quality to Byrd’s closely-argued musical structure, sustained over seventeen variations (indeed, this is one of Byrd’s longest works). The final variation explores both the lowest and the highest range of the keyboard.

The Second Ground is a compelling example of Byrd at his most creative, paying the greatest attention to detail. Listeners who pay it the compliment of listening with as much attention will find that it amply repays their efforts. Neighbour also mentions a final special feature, the ‘altogether exceptional lyric appeal’.

from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999

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