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.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

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.

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