Hyperion Records

Infelix ego
composer
6vv; Cantiones Sacrae 1591 xxiv-xxvi
author of text
after Psalm 50
editor
available from JOED Music, 234 Stanley Park Road, Carshalton, SM5 3JP

Recordings
'Byrd: Infelix ego & other sacred music' (CDA67779)
Byrd: Infelix ego & other sacred music
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £7.85ALAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £7.85 CDA67779  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Byrd: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd' (CDGIM208)
Byrd: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £11.75 CDGIM208  2CDs for the price of 1  
Details
Track 17 on CDGIM208 CD1 [12'20] 2CDs for the price of 1

Infelix ego
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Infelix ego is the crowning glory of Byrd’s achievement as a composer of spiritual words and one of the greatest artistic statements of the sixteenth century. The text is a meditation on Psalm 50 written by the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498). This remarkable man successfully led a campaign in Florence against the corrupt Medici family. With his powerful preaching he roused the townsfolk in religious zeal, cast out the Medici and set up a devastatingly rigorous Christian regime. Inevitably the fickle populace eventually grew tired of Savonarola’s severe piety and welcomed the Medici back; to satisfy their wounded pride, the family arranged for Savonarola to be tried for heresy (rather than treason) and then executed by fire. This remarkable text, taking the form of a number of rhetorical statements and questions, shows the whole gamut of emotion from a soul in torment—guilt, fear, embarrassment, anger, but crucially the gift of release when Christ’s mercy is accepted.

Infelix ego had been set before by Adrian Willaert, Cipriano de Rore and Orlandus Lassus but none of these comes even close to this emotional tour de force. Byrd would have known Tallis’s radical setting of the prayer Suscipe quaeso Domine which uses homophony set against polyphony to underline rhetorical questions and which must inform the younger composer’s setting. But more than this Byrd seems to have an emotional link with Savonarola’s words and to understand the mindset which has given rise to them. Savonarola sits in his cell in Florence awaiting execution for having followed his heart and his religious faith. At one time he was acclaimed by the people and his beliefs were an integral part of their lives. Byrd is in England, cut off from his faith and the rest of the Church to which he belongs. His colleagues are persecuted for their beliefs, beliefs which had been held by most of the people in England. Perhaps it is this shared metaphorical experience which leads Byrd to understand the real power of this text. There is not the space here for a full analysis of this Renaissance symphony, nor time to refer to all of the telling and subtle gestures which permeate the piece. The upward melodies which express the yearning in the writer’s eyes looking up to heaven for redemption, like Marlowe’s Faustus seeing the blood of Christ running in the heavens but being unable to access it. The juxtaposition of polyphony with homophony throughout: the constant ebbing and flowing of emotion as powerful as the sea. The build up of tension caused by an extended period of imitation around one of Byrd’s most frequently chosen words (‘misericordiam’ or ‘mercy’). The master stroke of a caesura followed by an astonishing chord progression and then a coda where it seems as if the longed-for mercy has actually been received.

from notes by Andrew Carwood © 2010

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