Catholic music in Reformation England
Performers: three to five singers
“The audience was led through Poole’s Cavern in atmospheric darkness, with pools of light as needed but never more than just enough for safety… They introduced the pieces as we moved from one place to another… explaining the historical context in a way that really increased the impact of the music, as did the secret or hidden location, the darkness, the fantastical shapes of the stone above and around us, the occasional drips of water, and the wonderfully resonant acoustic.” Ursula Birkett, review, Buxton Fringe Festival, 2010
Today, William Byrd’s Latin masses are beloved staples of the Anglican choral tradition. At the time of their publication, they suffered a different reputation: dangerous music, censored by the Church of England. Byrd, who enjoyed unusual immunity to the pressures of the Reformation, was permitted to publish Latin music “for secular enjoyment”. However, when his music was used in illegal Catholic rites, it was sung by reduced forces, in secret, at great risk to the participants. Meanwhile, less-favoured composers concealed their Catholic pieces in unpublished manuscripts or under assumed names. Some such works, such as Jollet’s ‘Adoramus te, Christe’, are only now coming to light.
Originally conceived for literal underground performance in Poole’s Cavern, this programme was awarded ‘Best Small Ensemble’ at the 2010 Buxton Festival Fringe. On that occasion the programme was performed with three singers, and has since been expanded to include repertoire for more voices.
Highlights of Forbidden Sacred include:
William Byrd (1540-1623)
selections from the masses for 3, 4, or 5 voices
Jollett (early 17th century)
‘Adoramus te, Christe’
Richard Dering (1580–1630)
selections from Cantica Sacra, 1662
Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)
‘O Sacrum Convivium’
selections from Gradualia 1605, 1607