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  • Writer's pictureMarkdavin Obenza

Music for Holy Week, recorded by the Byrd Ensemble


A selection of Byrd Ensemble recordings and videos for Holy Week. Click here to listen to the playlist. Recorded and produced by Scribe Studios.



French composer Antoine Brumel was a pupil of Josquin Desprez. Among his numerous posts, he was a singer at Chartres Cathedral and Master of the Boys at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Brumel’s only surviving set of Lamentations is one of the most beautiful in the repertory. Composing for four voices in a chordal style, Brumel strikes a somber and contemplative mood. Following tradition (as did Tallis), he provides musical settings for the names of the Hebrew letters (here, Heth and Caph) that divide the text.



Thomas Tallis was unique in working under no fewer than four monarchs during his long life

spanning most of the 16th century. He was able to adapt his musical style to meet virtually any

requirements. He joined the Chapel Royal in 1543. Tallis’s two settings of the Lamentations of

Jeremiah are among the most beloved works of Tudor polyphony. They are settings of readings for the Maundy Thursday liturgy, but because the music survives only in manuscript we can’t be certain if Tallis intended them for liturgical performance or private, devotional use. The musical style suggests they were composed during Elizabeth I’s reign. Tallis’s compositional triumph here is his ability to imbue an overall feeling of restraint with a powerful emotional undercurrent.



Antonio Rodriguez Mata became chapelmaster of Mexico City Cathedral in 1614. He replaced the elderly and intractable Juan Hernández, who did not go quietly. Under Mata's tutelage the musical establishment grew in quality and reputation. His compositions display a dark, sober style, similar to the Spanish style of Victoria.

Recorded during the pandemic, we recorded everyone individually and used camera cloning techniques to combine the footage in post production for the appearance that they are on stage together.



Gregorio Allegri was an Italian composer and singer who joined the Papal choir in 1629. His setting of Psalm 51, Miserere mei, Deus, is easily the most famous vocal work of the Renaissance, largely due to a somewhat spurious edition dating from the early-20th century, which included a soaring high C for the soprano in the odd-numbered verses sung by a quartet. The history and evolution of Allegri’s setting is now well-known and well-documented. It was composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during Matins, as part of the Tenebrae services on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. The service usually would start around 3:00 AM, and during the ritual, candles would be extinguished, one by one, until only one remained alight and hidden.

Originally, the work was simply a succession of chords to which the psalm was chanted (the tone has been identified as tonus peregrinus), but over decades of exclusive performance by the Papal choir, embellishments were added by singers and the piece evolved into a legendary work. A heightened sense of mystery surrounded the piece as the Papal choir jealously guarded it from others. Occasionally, a copy of the music would make its way out into the world, once via a young Mozart, who copied the work from memory after hearing a performance. For this recording, the now-traditional setting serves as the basis for further embellishments developed by Joshua Haberman in the spirit of the abbellimenti tradition.



Despite a long prolific career spanning 50 years, Lotti is now known almost exclusively for his Crucifixus. It is unclear if the 8-part motet comes from a larger work, but it was likely written for the Basilica of San Marco in Venice at the height of artistic patronage, written in a style that prefigures the Classical era.



Victimae Paschali (1979), based on the plainchant Victimae Paschali laudes, is a celebratory anthem for Easter.


Notes by Doug Fullington and Markdavin Obenza.

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