Byrd’s work probably dates from the 1590s at the earliest, and is among his most mature compositions. It was included by Thomas Tomkins in his first list of Lessons of worthe. This work displays a particularly subtle approach to harmonic variety and keyboard figuration, where nothing occurs by rote and every phrase has little surprises. The calm lyricism is not really disturbed by the wide-ranging scales that gradually overtake the melody. The tune itself sometimes disappears, and yet the ear never loses track of it. At Variation 5 it moves into the tenor, in the left hand, and then starts migrating around the texture, as if searching for free fingers to play it. In the closing Variation 7, the melody is again down in the tenor, consistent with Byrd’s liking for a descant melody covering the tune at the end.
A keyboard setting of the same melody also exist by John Bull (in NYPL 5612), and a less adventurous one occurs twice in the FVB (Nos 9, 42), with conflicting attributions to both Thomas Morley and John Mundy. Several rather simple lute settings also survive: John Dowland’s is perhaps the best, although Edward Collard’s variations are excellent, as is an exceptionally fine anonymous set. Finally, there are two more complex consort settings, both of which must be later than Byrd’s: a version for ‘English consort’ by Richard Allison that appeared in Morley’s compilation of Consort Lessons (1599), and the splendid version for six-part consort which, although anonymous in the manuscript, is probably by Orlando Gibbons.
from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999