Saturday, November 08, 2008

Elizabeth's Tune

I hope that some readers have been intrigued by the attention given to the life and work of William Byrd, renaissance England's most brilliant composer and one of the most overlooked masters of all music generally.

To learn more and hear samples of some of his best work--together with a story of his life--I can't recommend this DVD highly enough: The Tallis Scholars Sing William Byrd: Playing Elizabeth's Tune, featuring the marvelous Tallis Scholars.

It has an entertaining and super informative documentary on Byrd's life and all its complexities. It tells the story of this faithful Catholic who wrote music for the Queen. He was a loyal English subject whose heart broke daily for status of Catholics in England in the period. The experts interview tell of the deep divide between his day job as a composer of texts for the Church of England and his other life as a Jesuit smuggler and composer of Masses and propers. We see original documents and get a good sense of the times. Even the portrayal of Elizabeth is subtle and sensitive.

I know the price is outrageous ($47) but I have to say that it is worth every penny. The singing is ravishing, and the close ups of the singers make it especially personal. You will be introduced to music you have never heard, and I think I can say that with confidence even for people who know Byrd's work. There are unforgettable musical moments here. Perhaps if you subscribe to one of those online DVD clubs you can put this one on the list if they have it. It is so very much worth watching, not once but many times.

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