Welcome to our Festival blog

We are a small congregation who organised a highly successful 'William Byrd Festival' in May 2011 to celebrate the life and work of the village's Elizabethan composer, William Byrd (c.1540 - 1623). In 2012 we played host to the world-famous choir The Cardinall's Musick under their director Andrew Carwood.

This website contains everything you need to know about William Byrd and his links with Stondon Massey. The church is open for services, of course, and on the second Sunday afternoon in the month during the summer.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Sacred Music TV Series: Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors

Programme three in the series 'Sacred Music' has just had its first broadcast on BBC FOUR (written 4 April 2008). Entitled 'Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors', we learned about these two Elizabethan Catholic composers who lived and worked in Essex.

Tallis worked for the Anglican Church following the dissolution of Waltham Abbey where he was organist between 1538 and 1540. He composed such pieces as 'If Ye Love Me', simply because as a musician this was the art professionally required of him at the time. The Church was the only place for his creativity.

Byrd, the younger of the two men, was quite a different character. He was a closet Catholic writing subversive liturgy for families such as the Petres at Ingatestone Hall. The present Lord Petre was interviewed at his home and viewers were shown paintings of William Petre, the first Baron and canny Tudor Secretary to the monarchs, then John, William's son and patron of Byrd. The Petre family were keen musicians and invited Byrd to Ingatestone Hall at Christmas 1585 for merrymaking and the odd secret Catholic mass. Byrd's settings of the Mass for Three, Four and Five Voices (part of the Mass for Four Voices sung by The Sixteen at Ingatestone Hall) are deliberately written for an intimate, domestic area. This is dangerous music.

The choice of Byrd's home at Stondon Massey, after the London Plague of 1592, seems to have been a deliberate hideaway from prying villagers and a walk across country to what was a hotbed of recusancy in the nearby village of Kelvedon Hatch.

Byrd is portrayed as a 'protest singer' in the composition of 'Why do I with paper, ink and pen' - a reaction to Edmund Campion's execution / martyrdom at Tyburn - and in the writing of 'How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land' (in Latin) to that Psalm 'By the Rivers of Babylon' (no don't mention Boney M please!).

These were indeed turbulent times! Repeated fines for recusancy and maybe anonymous burial at night fall in the churchyard at Stondon Massey.


Harry Christophers, director of The Sixteen who appears in the programme, told the 'Early Music Show' (BBC Radio 3, 6.4.08) how very much he enjoyed performing Byrd's intimate music at Ingatestone Hall.

William Byrd (1543 - 1623) made no bones about the fact that he was a Catholic, and had powerful friends to protect them. His family and close friends were often in trouble and even imprisoned for recusancy. He became a close friend of the Petre family at Ingatestone and, while living at Stondon Massey, embarked on the Gradualia and Masses. This music was to be sung in private Catholic chapels such as that of the Petre family.

He devoted himself to projects during the last 30 years of his life while in Essex. There are two Byrds – the private one in retreat in Essex and a more European one, linked with De Monte across in Vienna. De Monte sends ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ Byrd replies in opening text ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’, a poignant response.

The composer's body was laid to rest in Stondon Massey churchyard in July 1623. Local people re-enacted his secret burial in the closing scenes of the programme.

Andrew Smith
Written and posted on http://www.blackmorehistory.blogspot.com on 4 April 2008, the date of the first transmission of the programme ‘Tallis, Byrd and The Tudors’, and 22 December 2008, when the programme was repeated.

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