Several keyboard elaborations, or ‘intabulations’, of Byrd’s vocal works survive but this is the only arrangement thought to have been made by composer himself. It is also the only one based on one of his motets, O quam gloriosum est regnum tuum
, published in the 1589 Cantiones sacrae
(but probably composed in about 1580). The texts used in the two sections had liturgical links with the Office texts for the Feast of All Saints, although Byrd’s publication of it was as a ‘sacred song,’ not as a work destined for the Catholic liturgy. The text of the first section is derived from the Magnificat antiphon ‘O how glorious is the kingdom wherein all the Saints rejoice with Christ! Clothed in white robes they follow the Lamb wherever he goes’, while that of the second section is derived from the service of None, ‘Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be unto our God for ever and ever, Amen’ (Revelation, Ch. 7, v. 12). Joseph Kerman reserves particularly appreciative words for the original 5-part vocal work: ‘The atmosphere gleams with lucid major triads’. He speaks of the ‘even, suffused light that informs O quam gloriosum’ and especially admires the way the piece ‘works its way effortlessly from word to word with the perfect, natural ‘framing’ that Byrd achieves when he is writing at the height of his inspiration’ (Kerman
, 1981, p 155).
The keyboard version survives without an attribution to Byrd in the only source. Alan Brown, writing in 1986, cautiously suggested that it might be ‘rash at this stage to attribute the arrangement to Byrd himself’ but Oliver Neighbour has since convincingly argued for his authorship: ‘It is the attempt to achieve greater clarity through changes in structural emphasis, especially in the highly imaginative treatment of the later sections, that is difficult to account for except as the work of the composer himself’ (Byrd Studies, 1992). Like many such intabulations of vocal pieces, the figuration added to the keyboard setting seems to impose a slower tempo than the sung original.
from notes by Davitt Moroney © 1999