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Elizabethan Church music

In Elizabethan England, the high vaults of late Gothic architecture echoed to the astonishing beauty and musical sophistication of which renaissance music was capable. If our leaden, mortal ears can hear it, here is something that must be close to that perfect harmony, the music of the spheres.

Starting with the simple, lyrical melodic lines of plainsong, the church composers of the period wrote music that was both passionate and serene, transcending the bitter struggles between differing and conflicting religious beliefs. (Go to the section on religion in the period.)

Listen* to Byrd's "Mass for Four Voices".

Another liturgical piece by Byrd, a "Miserere" for four parts, played on harpsichord by John Sankey. Listen to the unusual chords that Byrd creates as he weaves the four parts together:

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Footnotes

  1. Music above conflict

    The "Mass for Four Voices" is by William Byrd (1543-1623), a composer who was so highly respected that, though he remained a Roman Catholic in the protestant reign of Elizabeth, he was permitted to retain his position as organist of the Chapel Royal, and actually wrote masses for the Anglican service.

    Listen to the "Gloria" from his Mass for four voices:

    Your browser does not support MIDI playback. Download the MIDI file for playback in an external media player.