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”.