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.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Everything's Up To Date In Stondon Massey ...

“Everything’s up to date in Stondon Massey

They gone about as far as they can go”

In 2008 Stondon Church hosted a local history and music production called ‘Through Changing Scenes’. One of the items sung was a parody on lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein called ‘Everything’s up to date in Kansas City’. So it seems an irony that the William Byrd Festival should receive recognition from a church in Kansas City.

In drawing the inaugural William Byrd Festival to a close it seems appropriate to say ‘Everything’s up to date at Stondon Massey’ but to suggest that ‘They gone about as far as they can go’ may not be the case.

The Festival has shown that whilst William Byrd’s music is something of a niche market, and ambitious for a small church to host two weekends of fund raising based almost exclusively on his life and music, there is sufficient interest to fill a church three times over for concerts and secure a web readership around the world, particularly in America.

Many people commented during the Festival that insufficient prominence has been given to Byrd and that Stondon Massey in Essex should make more of its connections. The William Byrd Festival has helped the process but also highlighted to a wider public that the village where he lived is still alive and well though welcomes support to maintain its church and immediate surroundings.

Financially the William Byrd Festival has been successful too in that it has secured enough money for the Garden of Remembrance to be built in St Peter & St Paul’s churchyard.

... and we were pleased to learn that the Choir of Westminster Abbey sung Byrd's 'Justorum Animae' when Barack Obama, the President of America, laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown warrior (yesterday, Tuesday 24 May 2011) as part of his state visit to the United Kingdom.

Our small Committee meets tonight to decide where to go from here.

This site will remain open to bring news of future Byrd related events and to receive your comments.

For our small village where the great composer lived for about thirty years until his death in 1623, we can “claim Byrd for our own”.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Festival Highlighted in Exeter

Luch Càise-Dearg has been following with interest the William Byrd Festival here in Essex. The Exeter community station, Phonic FM, broadcasts a programme of classical music, moving from early to modern, almost every Tuesday morning from 10.00am to noon. It called appropriately ‘Classical Journey’. At the top of both shows 10 & 17 May our great composer has been featured with the playlist on the show’s blog. For more see http://classicaljourneyphonic.blogspot.com/2011/05/classical-journey-tuesday-10-may.html and http://classicaljourneyphonic.blogspot.com/2011/05/classical-journey-tuesday-17-may.html

For more about Phonic FM visit http://www.phonic.fm/2009/03/16/classical-journey/

We love the cute picture!

Monday, 23 May 2011

William Byrd Festival Comments

The Festival itself

“I just wanted to say many congratulations on The William Byrd Festival. Had no idea what to expect last Saturday evening having not heard any of his music - well, at least not recognising it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Regards J.”

Stondon Singers & Richard Turbet

“Excellent concert last Saturday!! Not only was the music very good but the organization was faultless. The format was relaxed and the lecturer seemed much at home. We cannot remember hearing the Stondon Singers before but we would be very happy to hear again. Altogether a very enjoyable local evening. R.

“You and your team have done a first class job of organising and managing the festival. Congratulations! I know that I am not the only one who has very much enjoyed it. I found Richard's talk very interesting, and I had the pleasure of chatting to him. I feel confident that next week end will be as good as this one has been. M.”

Writtle Singers

“We really enjoyed the Byrd Concert last night - the Writtle Singers were excellent in every way and a delight to listen to. It showed just how uplifting people in the 17th C found singing in Church. The reader was also very clear and informative and it was good to connect the events of Byrd's life with the music.” L & P

William Byrd Festival Sponsor

Bricklayers' Arms, Stondon Massey

Sunday, 22 May 2011

"William Byrd: Every Man Should Learne To Sing" in Pictures

Bells at St Peter and St Paul summon those to church to a celebration of favourite hymn-singing.

Once again the church is candlelit.

The congregation sing 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'

Anthea Gray, our Reader, leads the Service.

The Service was repeated at the Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore at 11.00am (15 May). John Hatt plays 'Monsieurs Alman' by William Byrd on the organ.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

"William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?" in Pictures

The Writtle Singers with Christine Gwynn (left) just before their production 'William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?' (14 May 2011).

The audience arrive

Candlelit church provides a lovely atmosphere for music by Stondon's composer, William Byrd (c.1540 - 1623)

The event was a narrative interspersed with Byrd song.

Interval refreshments. Many of the audience enjoy their wine and nibbles in the churchyard.

Festival Organiser and Master of Ceremonies Andrew Smith at the end of the production quotes from William Byrd's Will: "... that I may live and die a true and perfect member of His holy Catholic Church without which I believe there is no salvation for me. My body to be honestly buried in that parish and place where it shall please God to take me out of this life which I humbly desire if it shall please God may be in the parish of Stondon where my dwelling is ... "

Friday, 20 May 2011

William Byrd Festival Gains International Reputation: Press Release

Stondon Massey’s tribute to the Elizabethan composer, William Byrd, culminated last weekend with a concert by the Writtle Singers (photographed) at St Peter and St Paul Church (Saturday) and service of favourite hymns (Sunday).

The William Byrd Festival was organised by members of the congregation in order to raise money in support of the building of a new Garden of Remembrance in the churchyard where Byrd is believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave in 1623.

Last week one of the congregation visited the church in order to set up the space for a choir rehearsal to find affixed to the door a bunch of flowers with a request to place them on the grave of the ‘English composer’. The flowers were sent by well-wishers from ‘Tom Garrison and the Trinity Choir’ which following a little Internet research turned out to be the Episcopal Cathedral in Kansas City over in the United States of America.

Festival Organiser, Andrew Smith, said, “This was a lovely surprise. We were not able to place the flowers on an unmarked grave so instead decided to arrange them on the Memorial Tablet to the great composer inside the church. Our Festival website (www.williambyrdfestival.blogspot.com) shows that William Byrd is very popular in America with over a third of the hits coming from that country. We have received goodwill messages from many and some lovely comments on the singers who appeared at the Festival”.

“The William Byrd Festival has been a tremendous success, both in raising Byrd’s profile and financially. We have raised £2200 toward the Garden of Remembrance project”.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mission Impossible

Last Thursday (12 May) a church member called at the church to set things up for Writtle Singers rehearsal. Affixed to the church door was a bunch of flowers with the following note -

"Please place these flowers on the grave of William Byrd, English composer. From Tom Garrison and Trinity Choir".

William Byrd was buried, to the best of our knowledge, in Stondon Massey churchyard in an unmarked grave.

The unexpected gift came from, it turns out, the Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Kansas City, Missouri, United States.

We found their website and sent the Priest in Charge a note of thanks saying that the flowers would be placed near to the memorial tablet on the south wall of the church. Reference was made to the gift at the beginning of the Writtle Singers concert on Saturday (14 May).

The flowers are lisianthus - perhaps a pun on Elizabeth: 'O Lord Make Thy Servant Elizabeth' being one of Byrd's anthems.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

"William Byrd BCP Matins Service" in Pictures

John Hatt conducts our church music group, Jubilate, in the singing of
Thomas Tallis's 'If Ye Love Me'

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

"William Byrd: His Essex Years" in Pictures

Stondon Singers with Richard Turbet (centre) photographed at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey, Essex, just before the matinee performance of 'William Byrd: His Essex Years'

Lord Petre was in the audience at 4.00pm

Atmospheric candlelit scene during the evening performance.

Appreciative audience hear The Stondon Singers under their conductor Christopher Tinker

Monday, 16 May 2011

First Performance of Byrd's Jubilate

Stondon Massey’s inaugural William Byrd Festival claimed a first last week with a performance of the Byrd piece not heard for over 200 years. At the lecture / recital entitled ‘William Byrd: His Essex Years’, the Stondon Singers performed ‘Jubilate’, thanks to the research of speaker and early music expert Richard Turbet (photographed), who co-presented the event.

Byrd enthusiasts may know that nowhere in his repertoire is there a piece called ‘Jubilate’, which is the shorter canticle to the Benedictus in the Book of Common Prayer Matins service.

Richard Turbet said, “Jubilate is an arrangement, or musically an abridgment, of the Benedictus from Byrd's Short Service, made by Robert Shenton (1730-98), dean's vicar in the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, from 1757.

“The sole source for this arrangement is a manuscript in Durham Cathedral Library, copied by John Matthews while a stipendiary of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Matthews sent the manuscript to Durham Cathedral in 1777. The following year he was appointed a vicar choral there.

This version must have shared a place with the ‘Great Service’ discovered at the Cathedral by Edmund Fellowes, “Byrd’s cheer leader” in the early 1920s.

Richard added, “I am confident that the performance of Byrd's so-called Jubilate was a coup for the Festival, especially for those at the matinee [4pm performance on 7 May 2011], and the first in over two centuries. The publisher told me that the Stondon Singers were the first choir to purchase a job lot since he had published it.”

Sunday, 15 May 2011

'William Byrd: His Essex Years': Press Release

Early music lovers from far and wide flocked to the small village church of Stondon Massey last weekend to celebrate the life and work of sixteenth century musician and composer William Byrd. The ‘William Byrd Festival’ –which concluded this weekend - has been organised by the congregation in order to raise money to build a new Garden of Remembrance in the churchyard where Byrd is thought to have been buried in 1623.

Leading the cast last Saturday was Richard Turbet, from the University of Aberdeen, an expert on the topic. He was assisted, in a programme called “William Byrd: His Essex Years”, with musical illustrations by the Stondon Singers under their conductor Christopher Tinker.

The Stondon Singers were formed over 40 years ago mainly to perform the music of Byrd and his contemporaries. The Choir holds an Annual Memorial Concert at the church every July.

Lord Petre, whose forebears were Byrd’s patron, attended the matinee performance.

“It was wonderful to welcome Lord Petre to our Festival”, Andrew Smith one of the organisers said. “William Byrd moved to Stondon Massey in about 1593 to be near to Sir John Petre, a Catholic, at Ingatestone Hall. Byrd wrote daring and illegal music for performance at clandestine gatherings. He too was a Catholic at a time when saying the Catholic Mass was illegal. This did not deter him, because he had friends in high places: his music was loved by Queen Elizabeth I who turned a blind eye to his recusant activities”.

Clutch of Brentwood Gazette reporters come to Byrd Festival

Media interest has been large for the William Byrd Festival. Last Saturday (7 May) we had both a photographer and reporter from the Brentwood Gazette. The local newspaper covered the Stondon Singers / Richard Turbet event admirably by interviewing the choir and members of the audience. The item can be read in full be following this link: http://www.thisistotalessex.co.uk/where/brentwood/Byrd-s-songs-huge-draw/article-3539350-detail/article.html

William Byrd Festival: "Every man should learne to sing"

The 'William Byrd Festival' has migrated!!

Our 'Top 10 hymns' service is repeated at the Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore. Once again Anthea Gray is officiating but with John Hatt playing the organ.

The Service was inspired by William Byrd's famous appeal to everyone to take up singing. In his preface to the First Book of Cantiones Sacrae he wrote:

Reasons briefly set downe by th' auctor to perswade every one to learne to sing.
First it is a Knowldge easely taught, and quickly learned where there is a good Master, and an apt Scoller.
2. The exercise of singing is delightfull to Nature & good to preserve the health of Man.
3. It doth strengthen all the parts of the brest, & doth open the pipes.
4. It is a singular good remedie for a stutting & stammering in the speech.
5. It is the best meanes to procure a perfect pronunciation & to make a good Orator.
6. It is the onely way to know where Nature hath bestowed the benefit of a good voyce: which guift is so rare, as there is not one in a thousand, that hath it: and in many, that excellent guift is lost, because they want Art to express Nature.
7. There is not any Musick of Instruments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voyces of Men, where the voyces are good, and the same well sorted and ordered.
8. The better the voyce is, the meeter it is to honour and serve God there-with: and the voyce of man is chiefly to be imployed to that ende.
omis spiritus laudet Dominum.
Since singing is so good a thing
I wish all men would learne to sing.

William Byrd Festival: "Every man should learne to sing"

Our Festival Service this morning is a Top Ten hymns service. It is led by our reader, Anthea Gray. Our organist today is Brian Scott.

The Top Ten

2011 survey

2004 survey



O Lord My God (How Great Thou Art)



I The Lord of Sea and Sky (Here I am, Lord)



All Things Bright and Beautiful



Great Is Thy Faithfulness



Lord The Light of Your Love (Shine Jesus Shine)



Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind



Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace



Be Still For The Presence Of The Lord



O Jesus I Have Promised



Love Divine All Loves Excelling

Forty three people participated in our survey to find out what are Stondon and Blackmore’s favourite hymns. Unlike the last survey, conducted for the Flower Festival at Blackmore in 2004, there was from the commencement of voting a very clear favourite. ‘How Great Thou Art’ led the field by a mile, with 13 people putting the hymn on their list. The rest of the Top 10 was much closer with chart placings changing through until closure day. ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ failed to pick up any votes until the last week but secured a number 5 place (down from 2). In 2004 these two hymns were in close contention with ‘Jerusalem’ for the top spot. However, ‘And Did Those Feet (Jerusalem)’ has toppled out of the ten: it is now number 14.

‘Favourite Hymns’ services are a great way to celebrate the end of a special event. The William Byrd Festival has been an enjoyable fortnight or so at Stondon.

The Singing Church In Essex

An extract from a booklet entitled ‘The Singing Church in Essex’, published in 1955 to coincide with the Exhibition of Essex Church Music held in the Chelmsford Cathedral Chapter House.

William Byrd was one of the greatest musicians of the sixteenth century, quite equal in stature to the great contemporary foreigners Palestrina and Lassus. His art shows a great step forward beyond that of Tallis in every way. The rhythmic and harmonic range has widened considerably and now, from some years’ experience in the setting of English words, we find a new sureness and freedom. We find Byrd writing with an engaging lilt.

In an age when the English language was at its finest the music of the period was to give the words their own importance, taking from them a new freedom. Byrd, like his master, Tallis, was a genius. Of his music it is possible to write as C. Henry Philips has written of his Three-part Agnus Dei, “Nothng so lovely has ever appeared from any pen”. Byrd caught the nobility of Tallis’s firmness of technique which has seldom been surpassed. There is something comparable between Shakespeare and Byrd in their creation of great art.

Byrd first comes into the Essex picture in 1574 when “the Earl of Oxenford made a lease for 31 years of the manor of Battylshall” at Stapleford Abbotts to take place at the death of the occupant. There followed a considerable amount of legal dispute concerning this lease, one of the many cases in which Byrd was concerned, and eventually the case went against him, rather unjustly as far as one can see. The next time we hear of Byrd in Essex is in the company of the Petre family. There are seven entries between 1586-90 in the Petre accounts which refer to visits made by Byrd. Mostly they are concerned with the purchase of horse-meat! The first entry is in October 1586:

Payed to John Reynoldes the lackey for Mr Bydes horsemeat and his sonnes at their comyng down from London ii s.

We know from other sources that Byrd had been friendly with the Petre family long before that. There is in the Britidh Museum a certificate which together with a letter in the Public Record Office, was sent by Byrd to William Petre concerning the case of a certain Mrs Tempest. Mrs Tempest was one of the instances of Byrd’s assistance to the Roman Catholic cause, which despite the wonderful Anglican settings that he wrote, he never forsook. Byrd remained a Roman Catholic – but a broadminded one – to the end of his days. This act of sympathy was in 1581.

In 1593 Byrd became an Essex man; he moved into Stondon Place at Stondon Massey, and so far as we know remained resident of Essex until his death in 1623, a period of thirty years. Of the three Byrd Masses that survive, two of them, the two four-part masses, belong to this period, as does the third volume of madrigals and songs. There is a note in the Essex Record Office, of the year 1608, which refers to the books of William Byrd:

2 Setts of Mr Bird’s books intituled Gradualia, the first and second sett.

One other sett of Mr Bird’s bookes contayninge songs of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts.

One other of Mr Bird’s bookes of 5 parts.

The Gradualia belong to the Essex period. The first book includes the Ave Verum Corpus with its perfection of melodic outline. The Second Book is actually dedicated to John, first Lord Petre, Byrd’s next door neighbour at Stondon.

One of the Petre part-books, already mentioned, has a considerable number of Byrd’s compositions in it, mostly from the two books of Cantiones Sacrae. The First Book of Cantiones Sacrae has in it 11 pieces that are found in the Petre Book, including the short but brilliant Easter motet In resurrectione tua, which ends on a dazzling and complex Alleluia; and the Domine tu iurasti which John Alcock records as: “This piece in ye opinion of Mr Bird himself is ye best he ever compos’d”, a statement difficult to believe, since there is nothing special of note of it.

From the Second Book of Cantiones Sacrae we find six motets also to be found in the Petre collection, including the very beautiful Haec dicit Dominus with its unsurpassed tender expression and pathos: the fine Exsurge, Domine; and the Infelix ego which differs from all the other motets in that the words are neither biblical nor liturgical. There is one motet in the Petre part-book that is not found elsewhere, but of course it is only part of the six parts needed to make up the whole.

It was, of course, William Byrd who made the famous appeal to everyone to take up singing, in the prefix of his first collection.

And indeed in the hands of William Byrd all men might wish to sing. These words were printed in Psalms, Sonets & songs in 1588: a delightful collection some of which may be classed as madrigals but differ in style from others of the English School, like Wilbye. The last section includes the sublime little Lullaby.

There is no known epitaph to Byrd; it is believed that he was buried at Stondon as requested in his will. His only epitaph the simple entry in the ‘cheque book’ of the Chapel Royal:

1623. Wm. Bird a Father of Musick died the 4 of July.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

William Byrd Festival: "William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?"

We welcome the Writtle Singers this evening for the first time to Stondon Massey Church for their concert. ‘William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?’ explores in words and music Byrd's recusant Catholic faith and his honoured relationship with Queen Elizabeth I.

The Programme

trad. Fanfare

Claude Gervaise (c.1525 – c.1560): Bransle Double

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth

William Byrd (c.1540 – 1623): O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth c. 1577

Protestant worship

William Byrd: Kyrie from Mass for four voices c.1592

Catholic Persecution and Edmund Campion

William Byrd: Why do I use my paper, inke and pen c.1581/2

The Lord's song in a strange land

Philippe de Monte (1521 – 1603): Super flumina Babylonis (psalm 136 vv 1,3,4,2) 1583

Foreign correspondent

William Byrd: Quomodo cantabimus (psalm 136 vv 4-7) 1584


William Byrd: Gloria from Mass for four voices


Thomas Weelkes (c.1575 – 1623): Since Robin Hood

Recusant catholics

William Byrd: Credo from Mass for four voices

The Bye Plot and the Main Plot

William Byrd: Sanctus & Benedictus from Mass for four voices

The Gunpowder Plot

William Byrd: Rejoice, rejoice! 1589

Loyal hearts or traitors?

William Byrd: Agnus Dei from Mass for four voices

The Performers

Writtle Singers

Conductor: Christine Gwynn


Sopranos: Glyn Buckmaster, Alison Connolly, Jenny Haxell, Clare Oddy, Frances Quintrell, Jean Rose, Liz Saward, Helen Sismey

Altos: Audrey Cassidy, Anne Fradd, Gavin Oddy, Elizabeth Tiplin, Nanette Wright

Tenors: Stephen Burdge, Graham Frankel, Martin Mason, Graham Reeve

Basses: Clive Beale, John Buckmaster, Martin Clarke, Peter Quintrell, Andrew Taylor

Writtle Singers is a chamber choir based near Chelmsford, Essex. In addition to featuring a diverse range of smaller, unaccompanied pieces, the Singers’ repertoire embraces many larger scale works, recently: J S Bach Mass in B minor, Mozart Mass in C minor, Rutter The Wind in the Willows, Finzi In Terra Pax and, Chelmsford Cathedral last year, Bernstein Chichester Psalms, Janáček Otče Náš and Panufnik Westminster Mass.

2004 saw the choir’s first continental tour, which featured high mass in the magnificent cathedral of Antwerp. Subsequent trips have included performances in Prague, York Minster, Bolton Abbey, Caius College Cambridge, and, just last month, in Zurich. Writtle Singers has performed live on BBC radio and recorded three CDs: Wrelax was released in 2001, Wrejoice! (Christmas music) in 2003 and Wroving, musical highlights from their tours, in 2009.

Christine Gwynn ~ Conductor

Christine read music at Southampton University and subsequently studied at the Guildhall with Norman Beedie, laying the foundations for a freelance career involving many facets and styles of music. Christine has been musical director of Writtle Singers since 1997. In addition to an extensive choral repertoire, Christine’s conducting experience embraces orchestral direction and music theatre, from Dido & Aeneas to West Side Story and contemporary pieces – a wide variety of experience which she has brought to bear on her work in the choral field. In 2008 Christine co-founded Arbutus Music which seeks to encourage and enhance participation in group singing within the community; she also leads workshops for pianists and is musical director of Valentine Singers and Jericho Ensemble.

Martyn Richards ~ Narrator

Martyn has narrated many Writtle Singers’ concerts, with readings ranging from scripture to the children’s tale by Rutter, Brother Heinrich’s Christmas, as well as historical scripts around several Tudor projects. As a speaker of French and Italian he has helped with translations of choral works for his local choir. Martyn is a specialist in primary education as well as a choral singer himself, and has a special love of the sacred choral repertoire. Writtle Singers are delighted to be working with him once again.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Late Bookings now being taken for 'William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?'

There are still some tickets available for our concert tomorrow, Saturday 14 May (at 7.30). The Writtle Singers directed by Christine Gwynn consider William Byrd's subversive life as a sixteenth century recusant Catholic. Tickets are £12.50 each and can be purchased on the door.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Queen's Speech

Reference has been made to the “Queen’s Speech” at Tilbury in another post, but it is ‘The King’s Speech’ which comes out on DVD today. The critically acclaimed film is from an entirely different era to that of Queen Elizabeth I portraying the Duke of York’s (later to become King George VI) struggle with his speech impediment. In the early stages of the film Lionel Logue gets Bertie to sing as a means of treating his stammer. William Byrd when he set out his reasons why men should learn to sing (in 1588) suggested that it was a means of resolving a stammer. He wished that ‘every man should learne to sing’.

Next Sunday (15 May) the William Byrd Festival concludes with a service of Favourite Hymns, at both Stondon Massey (9am) and Blackmore (11am).

William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?

The second weekend of the ‘William Byrd Festival’ at Stondon Massey features the Writtle Singers in a programme entitled ‘William Byrd: Loyal Heart or Traitor?” (Saturday 14 May 2011. 7.30pm) The inspiration behind the programme, devised by Christine Gwynn their director, comes from two previous performances by the Choir: one celebrating Gloriana, the other ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605. The title come from Queen Elizabeth I’s anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic rhetoric delivered at Tilbury in Essex when the nation faced the threat of the Armada.

She said:

“My loving people,

“We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood even, in the dust.

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

“I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

William Byrd trod the fine line of being a ‘loyal heart’ to the Queen by writing music which she simply adored and that of ‘treachery’ or being a ‘traitor’ in being a recusant Catholic writing illegal and subversive music.

Roman Catholic religious services were illegal in England and Wales between 1559 and 1778. The fear of revolution and invasion from Catholic Spain caused the law to be strengthened, in 1581 and 1585, whereupon the saying of Mass, even in a private home, was illegal; priests so doing faced the death penalty.

One such priest was John Payne, who was imprisoned during the winter of 1576-77 for being present with the Petre family of Ingatestone Hall. He is recorded in 1577 as a servant to Lady Petre, Sir William Petre’s widow. She died in 1582, ten years after her husband. After celebrating Mass at the house of William More, in Haddon, Oxfordshire, Payne was again arrested, betrayed into the hands of the authorities by the notorious priest-catcher George ‘Judas’ Eliot, who he had met at Ingatestone Hall in Christmas 1579. Unable to secure a conviction, a charge was made that he had tried to enlist Eliot in a plot to murder the Queen. Tortured on the rack, he was subsequently found guilty and hung, drawn and quartered at Chelmsford in 1582. Revd Reeve of Stondon Massey wrote, “The manuscripts of the Custos Rotulorum preserved at Chelmsford yield up the information that in April, 1582, one John Gaye, of Blackmore, was examined as to his knowledge of ‘Payne the traytour’, recently executed and of his accomplices. He confessed to having said at Writtle that Payne was reported to have ‘belonged to one Master Shelley’ [William Shelley of Stondon Massey]”. The irony was that Shelley was later effectively evicted from his home at Stondon Place, only to be rented by Byrd himself.

Byrd was the protest singer of his day, a kind of Bob Dylan figure, who, on the execution or martyrdom of Edmund Campion penned ‘Why Do I Use My Paper Ink and Pen’. Eliot too had betrayed Campion at Lyford in Berkshire in July 1581, as he had done a further thirty priests.

Byrd would have known of Payne’s execution too. He was friendly with the Petre family at that time: a friendship which became closer after Lady William Petre’s death, when John Petre became lord of the manor.

Byrd also set to music the secret text of Psalm 137, anglicised as ‘How Do We Sing The Lord’s Song In a Strange Land’, an undercover reference to his alien Catholicism in a protestant country.

Payne was later beatified by the Catholic church and was among forty martyrs canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970. His feast day is remembered on 6 May.


Stewart Foster. The Catholic Church in Ingatestone

D.W.Coller. A Peoples History of Essex

F.G.Emmison. Tudor Secretary (Sir William Petre)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Planning your second William Byrd Festival weekend? Visit Ongar Flower Festival.

May Fayre & Flower Festival
St Martin's Church, Chipping Ongar
Saturday 14 May. 10.00am to 5.00pm
Sunday 15 May. 11.30am to 5.00pm
50% of funds raised go to 'Help For Heroes'
free parking in Library Car Park

William Byrd Festival: Come and See Stondon Massey

Opening the church this afternoon is as much a tribute to Revd. Edward Henry Lisle Reeve (pictured) as it is to William Byrd. Reeve, as is written elsewhere, was a keen local historian and in no small measure brought the great composer of Stondon Massey to public attention. Illustrative of his hobby is a note of a visit he made 100 years ago today.

Now preserved in the Essex Record Office for all to see, the Archdeacon of Essex and of Colchester records dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I were stored in a quite different way a century ago. Revd. Reeve, the rector of Stondon Massey and a keen local historian, made a visit on 8th May 1911 to Mr Gepp, the Registrar at Chelmsford. He wrote, “Matters had improved since my last visit [11 years ago]. The books had been brought downstairs from the loft, and had been lodged in shelves. This, however, without any regard at all to order or classification. I was treated by Mr Gepp & his Clerks with the kindest consideration and given free access to the library, with a candle in wire lantern to assist me in the dark corner to which it was relegated, and a duster with which to move away so much dust as should be necessary and to keep my fingers free for movement.” Reeve noted the work of Mr Hollingsworth-Browne who was in the process of transcribing the records: “but only some 15 have yet been examined, and I suppose there must be over 150 volumes”.

Source: ERO T/P 188/2 loose paper between f612-613.

William Byrd Festival: Book of Common Prayer Matins

Andrew Smith writes about today's Festival Service at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey.

On Bartholomew’s Day in 1662 the Church of England replaced its previous Book of Common Prayer with a new version. Ministers who were unwilling to follow the new Anglican liturgy were, under the Act of Uniformity, deprived of their living: they were dismissed.

Although little altered from the 1559 Prayer Book, in use while William Byrd was alive, the new Book of Common Prayer (known to us as BCP) sought to bring harmony to religious worship after what had been turbulent times since Henry VIII’s break with Rome and Catholicism in the 1530s. Byrd was privately a determined Catholic at a time when it was illegal to say Mass and attendance of communion at the Established Church compulsory. Byrd failed to attend this church and consequently was reported by the priest and churchwardens of Stondon Massey for non-compliance.

“William Birde, gent, for a Recusant Papist and for absenting himself from church for a long tyme and for standing excommunicate seaven yeares”.

In holding a BCP Morning Prayer (or Matins) service we have a link back the time when Byrd lived in Stondon Massey. The service today is one of worship and not a historic recreation or performance. We will use words still in use in the Church of England. Admittedly BCP Matins is rarely used and unfamiliar to the congregation at St Peter & St Paul Church. So today’s service will be adapted slightly to allow those contributing to take a full part and to commemorate the life and work of William Byrd. Prayers, for example, will be said not chanted. As service leader I have to get my tongue around some unusual but poetic language. I hope that you enjoy the experience and will join in at the appropriate times.

We will use a combination of live and recorded music, both contemporary with Byrd’s day and of more recent times. This illustrates the thread of worship throughout the last 400 years or so in this church and elsewhere.

We are not being a congregation with a recent choral tradition so two of the canticles have been substituted with well-known congregational hymns: ‘Jubilate’ is a more recent arrangement of one of those.

‘The Great Service’ is a set of canticles written by Byrd for the Church of England. After Byrd’s death the work fell out of fashion perhaps because, as a whole, all of the composer’s output was deemed unsuitable for use in the English church. Byrd’s music was out of favour, at least in the Anglican Church, until the early twentieth century. It was the discovery of a set of manuscripts in Durham Cathedral by Edmund Fellowes that led to its first recent performance during the William Byrd Tercentenary Celebrations in London in 1923.

Canon Edward Henry Lisle Reeve, the Rector of Stondon Massey (from 1893 – 1935) attended the “Greate Service” Evensong at Westminster Abbey, recalling “the glorious effect produced by the 200 trained voices as the melodies floated around the pillars and arcades of the sacred building”. Since we do not have 200 voices, two shorter movements from the Morning Prayer service have been selected. The recording is by the Westminster Abbey Choir.

Edmund Fellowes was a well-known acquaintance of Reeve, and as an amateur historian Reeve championed Byrd. It was through this connection that the William Byrd Memorial was erected on the south wall of the church funded from the surplus which arose from the London Tercentenary celebrations. The Dedication Service in March 1924 closed with the hymn ‘For All The Saints’, sung to the tune ‘Sine Nomine’ (no name) composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958).

Vaughan Williams was a member of the London Tercentenary Committee and became, as we know, one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. It is said that his Mass in G Minor was the first to be composed since those of Byrd. Hymns have been chosen from the English Hymnal, edited by Vaughan Williams. A service such as this is the perfect opportunity to sing ‘To Be A Pilgrim’.

I have decided to use the Authorised Version of the Bible (the “King James Version”) for the readings, not least because it is 400 years old this year and is as great a literary work as that of William Shakespeare, another contemporary of Byrd’s era. Canon Reeve believed that William Byrd’s work ought to be as well-known as the bard. He suggested that the obscurity of Byrd’s music was due to the Latin rites of the Church which had since fallen into abeyance. He noted that had Shakespeare suffered a similar fate many would have difficulty quoting “To be or not to be”. He compared the availability of Byrd’s work to a reader knowing only a few disjointed scenes of Shakespeare’s plays. Nowadays, Byrd’s work is equally as available as that of Shakespeare but only recognised as such within a limited audience.

I have been deliberate in the selected readings. The Old Testament reading has been substituted by the epistle of Paul to Timothy. The pulpit in Stondon Church with the reading desk attached was erected during Revd. Nathaniel Ward’s incumbency, and bears the date 1630. “In all probability”, to quote Reeve again, “it was introduced into the Church in response to an order from Bishop Laud, but I think we may trace Ward’s handiwork also, and his personal superintendence. In the pulpit is carved “2 Tim. iv. 1-2”, the reference being to the words of St Paul, “Preach the word in season and out of season”, which no doubt was a favourite Apostolic injunction with the Puritan divine”. Ward, a Puritan, was suspended from the living and left these shores for America in 1634. His brother, Samuel, coincidentally was one of a large group of editors who compiled the Authorised Version which we know today.

Byrd’s descendants lived in the village until about 1651.

Today’s Gospel reading picks up the call of the faithful to obey Christ’s commandments, which is repeated in the setting Tallis’ anthem, ‘If Ye Love Me’, sung by Jubilate, our Choir drawn from the congregations of Stondon Massey and Blackmore churches. Thomas Tallis (c1505 -1585) was Byrd’s friend and mentor. He too was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in London, the sovereign’s choir, and has an Essex connection in that he was organist at Waltham Abbey in the two years before its dissolution in 1540.

Psalm 137 is highly appropriate for this service. Phillippe de Monte (1521 – 1603), a Flemish composer, sent Byrd a piece using text from Psalm 137: ‘Super Flumina Babylonia’. Byrd replied, in coded and secret language with ‘Quonmodo Cantabimus’, opening with the lines of verse 4 of the Psalm, “How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” (Ps 137:4).

Perhaps all of these threads suggest how, in twenty-first century Britain, people might respond to a changed society where belief in anything seems at times unfashionable. Perhaps the answer to 2 Tim 4:2 lies within all that has been said or sung within the service. Like Byrd, to proclaim the word of God in season and out of season.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

William Byrd Festival: "William Byrd: His Essex Years"

Our evening performance of 'William Byrd: His Essex Years' at St Peter & St Paul Church, Stondon Massey, is under way.


Richard Turbet: William Byrd: His Essex Years (Part 1)

Stondon Singers:

Jubilate (first performance for two centuries)

Susanna fair a3

Susanna fair a5

This sweet and merry month a4

This sweet and merry month a6

Agnus Dei, Mass for 4 Voices *


Richard Turbet: William Byrd: His Essex Years (Part 2)

Stondon Singers:

Ave verum corpus

Come woeful Orpheus

Who looks may leap

I have been young

Arise Lord into Thy rest

Sing joyfully

William Byrd Festival: "William Byrd: His Essex Years"

Curtain Up! (if we had one) on the William Byrd Festival. This is the first performance (of two) of “William Byrd: His Essex Years”.


The Stondon Singers were formed in 1968 originally to perform the music of William Byrd at Stondon Massey, where he spent the last thirty years of his life. The annual William Byrd Memorial Concert has been a highlight of their performing schedule ever since, taking place on the first Tuesday in July.

Whilst the works of Byrd and his contemporaries remain at the core of their repertoire, the Singers perform a wide and varied range of music. In recent years this has included performances of Bach’s St John Passion, Monteverdi’s Vespers 1610 and Fauré’s Requiem as well as concerts with madrigals and music of the present era, and their accompanists have ranged from Baroque ensembles to jazz trios.

The Stondon Singers have performed in many venues, including our two local cathedrals, Brentwood and Chelmsford, and also those in Southwark and Bury St Edmunds. Other memorable occasions include mass at St Paul’s Knightsbridge and a Handel concert as part of the Chelmsford Festival.

The Stondon Singers are resident in the atmospheric Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore.

Sopranos: Katharine Adams, Michelle Arthur, Jenny Evans, Mavis Holmes, Catherine Kelly, Julie Lorkins, Annabel Malton, Faith Marchal, Karen Mortley, Mary Seckleman, Sally Walker

Altos: Mavis Brown, Audrey Cassidy, Julia Dimon, Jill Evans, Josephine Gordon, Marjolein Hillman

Tenors: Matthew Butt, David Hampson, Alan Haward, David Lloyd, John Waggett

Basses: Michael Aves, David Evans, Phil Holmes, Chris Overy, David Schacht, Derek Taggart

Conductor: Christopher Tinker

Christopher Tinker was educated at the Royal College of Music with studies in organ (Ralph Downes), composition and conducting (Denys Darlow). Postgraduate studies were undertaken at Durham, and later at Lancaster University from where he obtained a Doctorate in music. Following his first post as Organist to The King’s School, Canterbury, he has held positions as Director of Music at a number of schools and colleges both in the UK and overseas, whilst sustaining a broad portfolio as a freelance musician.

His conducting career, embracing amateur and professional fields, has taken him throughout Britain, to many parts of Europe and also to Japan. He has worked with such ensembles as the London Mozart Players, Ulverston Choral Society, Aldeburgh Music Club, Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society, Haffner Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lakeland Singers. He directs the music at St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich, and the concerts season of the Ipswich G&S Society. He is a composer, and his works include choral and instrumental music and a children’s opera. He is currently collaborating with the South African poet, Moira Lovell.

Following a move from London to Ipswich in 2003, an area with which he has a long association through the Aldeburgh Festival, he has been involved with Imogen Holst’s Centenary, including contributions to the book Imogen Holst – A Life in Music (Boydell and Brewer 2007) and a series of lecture recitals at such establishments as the Royal College of Music, Dartington College of Arts and the Holst Birthplace Museum. This also resulted in the production of a CD of Imogen Holst’s string music which won the premier award 2010 from the BBC Music Magazine.

Richard Turbet. Richard is a leading authority on William Byrd, having written or edited over one hundred published works about the composer and related subjects. Richard has given talks at several universities in Britain and the USA, and at the William Byrd Festival in Portland, Oregon, and edited its tenth anniversary commemorative book. He has contributed to the Grove and to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and is currently compiling the third edition of his book, “William Byrd. A Guide to Research”.

Richard is a retired librarian from the University of Aberdeen where latterly he was Special Collections Cataloguer and subject specialist for Music. For fifteen years he was a cathedral lay clerk.

We are especially grateful to Richard for giving his time in support of St Peter & St Paul Church. He will be giving the address at the Book of Common Prayer: Matins service tomorrow morning at 9.00am.

William Byrd Festival Prayer

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing. All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
(Ecclesiasticus 44 v. 1, 5 & 7)

Sovereign Lord, and Father of us all, we hold in high esteem the gifts of composition and verse that you have so graciously given to the likes of William Byrd and those who came before him and who follow on to the present day.

The gift of composition is indeed a gift from God, given to few and experienced by many. May the swell and cadence of both instrument and voice illuminate your divine worship here, as we your humble followers endeavour to enhance the spirituality of our service.

Today as we acknowledge the gifts of William Byrd and others, allow us gracious Lord to feel your spirit within us as the music and words enter our hearts and souls.

May we your followers give credence to these skills as we try in all faithfulness to achieve what William Byrd wished, “that all men would learn to sing”

Gracious Lord, hear our prayer.


Welcome to the William Byrd Festival.

The Rector of Stondon Massey writes:

The William Byrd Festival: A celebration and thanksgiving through words and music.

A very warm welcome is extended to you all who are able to share this celebration. I hope we have the opportunity to meet up personally over these two festival weekends and get to know each other a little better.

The Church of St. Peter and St Paul in Stondon Massey continues to provide us with a very special atmosphere of worship and prayer, past and present.

Since 1130, St Peter and St Paul Church has offered tranquillity, an oasis in the desert for all who enter the building. It is steeped in history and we are very privileged to celebrate the link we have with William Byrd who was one of the greatest Elizabethan composers and a resident in Stondon for the last 30 years of his life.

St Peter and St Paul’s Church has a very loving and committed congregation who love to share the old traditions along with the new things of today. We are also very mindful of the many faithful and departed over the past nearly 900 years, who have soaked this building with prayer which has left it with the atmosphere we enjoy today.

I hope you enjoy the experience and that your visit will prompt you to returning once again into this sacred space.

Thank you to those who have worked so hard together in bringing this festival to our community and I pray that you will be greatly blessed through it.

Yours in Christ

Reverend Toni Smith. Rector of Stondon Massey.

Byrd at the Beeb: a transcript of the BBC Essex interview

William Byrd Festival organiser, Andrew Smith was on BBC Essex last Sunday morning (1 May 2011) bright and early to tell the county about what was happening at Stondon Massey over these two weekends. This is a transcript of the interview.

1.5.11 7.09am. Ian Wyatt (presenter): Before 7.30 we are going to be looking at the work of William Byrd: the famous Elizabethan composer William Byrd! No, I don’t think I have heard of him either to be honest with you but we will certainly find out about that man before half past seven – he came from Stondon Massey near Brentwood.

7.24am. Ian: Allow me to introduce you now to a musical star who lived in our county almost five centuries ago. His name was William Byrd. He was a composer and among his works was this ….

- Extract from ‘This Sweet and Merry Month of May’ sung by members of The Cambridge Singers directed by John Rutter -

That’s called ‘This Sweet and Merry Month of May’, quite fitting really being May Day, written by William Byrd who lived in Stondon Massey near Brentwood in the sixteenth century. And next weekend the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul in Stondon Massey will be celebrating his life and work with a William Byrd Festival. The man behind it is Andrew Smith. Andrew is with us this morning in the studio. Morning.

Andrew Smith: Good morning.

Ian: To use a well-known phrase ‘Not a lot of people know about ‘ William Byrd. Well certainly I don’t think I was that familiar with his work. Have you recently discovered him Andrew or have you been a lifelong fan?

Andrew: I wouldn’t say I have been a lifelong fan. I’ve lived around Stondon Massey for a lifetime and the Stondon Singers have an annual concert every July as a Memorial Concert to him. And I think I discovered William Byrd through that. William Byrd actually lived in Stondon Massey for the last thirty years of his life until his death in 1623.

Ian: Right.

Andrew: And perhaps he was buried in the churchyard there.

Ian: Oh right! What brought him then to Stondon Massey in the first place? Do we know?

Andrew: Yes. He was a Catholic, and Lord Petre lived at Ingatestone Hall who himself was a Catholic, and he was Byrd’s patron. Byrd wrote some very daring music for the time because Catholicism, was as such, was banned. The only established Church was the Church of England. And he managed to get away, as such, by what he did in writing Masses, religious music – and madrigals, such as you played – through his connections: his connections with the Petre family, with Queen Elizabeth and later King James I. He was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal – a Royal Wedding connection there.

Ian: And perhaps some then didn’t perhaps realise the messages in his music.

Andrew: Well I think there were some secret messages in there. There are some works that are clearly written as secret I suppose, shall I put it, protest songs.

Ian. Goodness. Who would have thought you would have had protest songs in the sixteenth century. How important is he in the great scheme of things? Obviously important in Stondon Massey in Essex but, you know, in the Elizabethan music scene was he known nationally at the time?

Andrew: At that time he was highly regarded by people in his circle – by Royalty, as I say, by the Petre family.

Ian: And he obviously wrote quite a bit of music because you have got enough to fill a Festival.

Andrew: He wrote the equivalent of seven CDs, not that CDs were around of course, of instrumental music, 13 CDs worth of Latin church music and several other pieces of music so quite a lot has been rediscovered, I suppose, during the twentieth century when Byrd’s music has become more, shall I say, acceptable.

Ian: Apart from the music at Festival, you’ve got a big Byrd expert coming haven’t you?

Andrew: Yes, a big Byrd expert. His name is Richard Turbet. He comes from the University of Aberdeen and is certainly an expert in the life and work of William Byrd. He’s in fact doing a major research project on Byrd and producing a third edition of ‘A Guide To Research’. We are looking forward very much to his first appearance at Stondon Massey. He is very keen to come and support the church in its work to raise money to build a new Garden of Remembrance.

Ian: Oh lovely. So that’s where the money from the Festival ticket sales are going for the Garden of Remembrance. And if you are interested in William Byrd and finding out a bit more or are going to google him of whatever it’s B-Y-R-D isn’t it? It’s lovely. I think it’s great when we discover more about Essex and I want to play a bit more of ‘This Sweet and Merry Month of May’, which is perfect for today and after this we’ll look at how you get tickets, is that alright Andrew.

Andrew: Yes fine.

- Reprise -

Ian: ‘This Sweet and Merry Month of May’ written by William Byrd of Stondon Massey near Brentwood in the sixteenth century – and we will add that to one of Tim’s list of 31 the songs Andrew, we can get away from that can’t we? If people want to find out more about tickets the Festival covers two weekends. It’s on from the seventh to the fifteenth of May in Stondon Massey Church. There’s a website for details.

Andrew: Yes, that’s right. It’s a blog actually but it’s William Byrd Festival, as one word, dot blogspot dot com.

Ian: Tickets are £12.50 for the music and we’ll put details on the BBC Essex helpline. I hope that the next couple of weeks go really well. I think a lot of people in the area are going to find out more about an old local hero that they may have not known much about before.

Andrew: Thank you.

Ian: Andrew Smith from Stondon Massey.

Ends 7.31am.