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.
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.