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Ne irascaris, Domine

Liber primus sacrarum cantionum (1589)
author of text
Isaiah 64: 9-10

When Byrd published his Liber Sacrarum Cantionum in 1589, he was in a phase of setting Latin texts on persecution, with one theme appearing most often: the biblical captivity of the Israelites in Babylon. These references, familiar to church liturgy in the poignant words of Psalm 137 ('By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept'), could be considered as expressions of Byrd’s personal desperation at the state of English Catholicism. Of Byrd’s three ‘Jerusalem motets’ in his 1589 publication, Ne irascaris, Domine has always been the best known and most performed.

The start of the motet is derived (slightly unexpectedly) from a song called O doux regard by the Flemish composer Philip van Wilder, who worked in Henry VIII’s court in the first half of the 16th century. It is dark in tone, and comparatively low in the voices’ ranges compared with the rest of the piece. A section in homophony—'Ecce' ('Look!')—draws our attention to the plight of the captives in exile, and the first half concludes with an affirmative set of imitative entries on the text 'populus tuus omnes nos' ('we are all thy people'). The second part, Civitas sancti tui, begins inconspicuously, but the polyphony soon draws to a halt at a cadence on E major. A section of incredible poignancy then unfolds, starting with an implicitly hushed return to G major where two groups of voices sing 'Sion deserta facta est' ('Sion is made a wilderness'). Out of this emerge the voices in imitation repeating the cry 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem', rather evocative of the refrain from Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum' ('Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God'). From this follows an astonishing set of 54 entries on the words 'desolata est', utterly despondent at the captivity of the Lord’s people in Babylon. The shape of these entries is subtly altered from G-F#-E-E-D to G-F#-E-G-D, recalling the start of Civitas, before the final cadential motif ripples upwards from the lower parts. The motet ends with a sense of calm and tranquillity.

I have always been amazed at how Byrd creates such a resigned and 'desolata' atmosphere without the use of a minor mode or extensive dissonance. Perhaps another composer such as Tomkins might have set it in the latter way, using the ‘English’ false relations and clashes to illustrate the pain of exile. However, it is the subtlety of word-setting and expressive use of imitation and texture that make Ne irascaris, Domine stand out as a true masterpiece. An apt comment is passed down from an anonymous copyist in the time of Byrd, simply annotating his manuscript 'good song'.

from notes by James Anderson-Besant © 2020

Publié dans ses Cantiones Sacrae de 1589, ce motet double est un des chefs-d’œuvre de Byrd et probablement l’une de ses déclarations les plus fortes inspirées par le sort de l’église catholique en Angleterre. L’accent mis sur le mot «desolata» après les tristes résonnances de «Ierusalem» et les expressions des accords de «Sion deserta facta est» invite à une comparaison avec «Les Lamentations» de Tallis.

extrait des notes rédigées par Paul Hillier © 1990
Français: Marianne Fernée

Diese Doppelmotette, die 1589 in seinen Cantiones Sacrae veröffentlicht wurde, ist eines der Meisterwerke von Byrd und ist zweifellos eine seiner machtvollsten Aussagen, inspiriert durch das Schicksal der katholischen Kirche in England. Die Betonung, die dem Wort „desolata“ nach den traurigen Echos von „Ierusalem“ gegeben wird und später die ausdrucksstarken Akkorde für „Sion deserta facta est“ lassen sich mit den Lamentationen von Tallis vergleichen.

aus dem Begleittext von Paul Hillier © 1990
Deutsch: Hans Jürgen Wienkamp


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Track 9 on 1EMVEM [7'35] Download only Available Friday 12 November 2021
Track 3 on CDGIM208 CD2 [8'06] for the price of 1 — Download only
Track 3 on GIMSA592 [8'06]
Track 3 on GIMDP901 [8'06]
Track 3 on GIMDN902 [8'06]
Track 3 on CDGIM992 [8'06]
Track 8 on CDA67704 [8'53] Last few CD copies remaining
Track 8 on CDH55148 [9'16]
Track 5 on SIGCD295 [8'46] Download only
Track 9 on SIGCD605 [10'54] Download only
Track 10 on SIGCD607 [8'12] Download only
Part 1: Ne irascaris, Domine
Track 15 on CDA68256 [4'23]
Track 5 on KGS0024-D [3'35] Download only
Part 2: Civitas sancti tui
Track 16 on CDA68256 [5'14]
Track 12 on CDA66850 [5'13]
Track 6 on SDG720 [5'27] Download only
Track 1 on SIGCD338 [5'02] Download only
Track 6 on KGS0024-D [3'58] Download only

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