Sunday, August 24, 2008


I am not particularly religious, but nevertheless I attend mass or other religious services when the music is of interest. In Portland they are currently having a festival to the English Renaissance composer William Byrd, something that has become a tradition here. They performed Byrd's mass for four voices at a high mass this evening, and it was a very beautiful experience.

Byrd composed in Latin, and the mass was in Latin except for the sermon and the scriptural readings. Several segments of the ordinary were sung in Gregorian chant by a group who stood in the front. William Byrd and Gregorian chant--who could ask for more? For me it was like voices from the past.

This is none of my business, but I'm going to say it anyway. What does the catholic church have to offer that others don't? Tradition and some of the most beautiful music in the world. William Byrd risked his life and freedom to compose masses in Latin. I have always felt that Vatican II disrespected its own tradition by forbidding Latin. They threw out the baby instead of the bath water.

The mass was called Pontifical and included repeated references to "Tu es Petrus" or you are Peter. I think this was to provide a context for two Byrd motets on that theme. The style of this music is very much high Renaissance, much like Lasso and Palestrina, with no hints of the modernism heard in keyboard works of the same period.

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