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Byrd: Exalt thyself, O God

Byrd: Exalt thyself, O God

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Choral leaflet

£2.50

Publisher: Cathedral Press
ISBN: CP13

Much of William Byrd's finest church music was composed for the Roman Catholic liturgy but he is also remembered for a number of high-quality works for the Anglican rite - such as the 'Great' Service and the anthem Sing joyfully unto God. The present editor's discovery of the festive Exalt thyself, O God constitutes a significant addition to Byrd's 'English' repertoire.

Previously all that was known to have survived of the work was a bass part, in two sources, and the text; the extended rests at the beginning and towards the end of the bass part had led to its being categorised by some as a verse anthem. The Music Library in Worcester Cathedral contains an anonymous score, lacking some opening bars, of an anthem entitled 'Set up thyself, O God'. It is in the hand of Thomas Tomkins' son, Nathaniel - who saw his father's church music collection Musica Deo Sacra (1668) through the press. Understandably the score, together with an associated tenor part, was ascribed to Thomas Tomkins.

I discovered that the bass part and the incomplete score and tenor part were one and the same piece and that the score lacked just the first folio - some twenty bars of music. An inspection of the tenor and bass parts revealed that the missing material is recapitulated in bars 80-100, so by a fortunate chance the restoration of the opening section became a simple matter of transcription, but with the upper parts reversed. The text (Psalm 57, vv. 6, 8-12) had been added haphazardly, in its well-known 'Prayer Book' translation, to the score and also in full to the separate tenor part. However Byrd set the less familiar Genevan Bible translation, as confirmed by the bass part-books and the text source. The editor has therefore reinstated this version of the text in the five upper parts.

The restored anthem can be seen to have served as a model for Orlando Gibbons' Hosanna to the Son of David in the following respects: (i) their identical scoring, (ii) their shared 'key', (iii) the common ternary structure, (iv) a characteristic rising-scale motif (bars 11-15 and 90-94 of 'Exalt thyself, 0 God') and (v) the omission of the bass at the opening and recapitulation to achieve an appropriate colouring of the text. Byrd's Exalt thyself, O God can also be compared with his festive Sing joyfully unto God in (i) their identical scoring, (ii) their shared 'key', (iii) the omission of the bass at the opening and (iv) their references to musical instruments. Both anthems date, probably, from c. 1600.