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Earthy Elizabethan Elegance From William Byrd

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Earthy Elizabethan Elegance From William Byrd

Music Articles

Earthy Elizabethan Elegance From William Byrd

Earthy Elizabethan Elegance From William Byrd

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Queen Elizabeth I's coronation portrait Wikimedia hide caption

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Queen Elizabeth I's coronation portrait

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Phantasm is an instrumental ensemble that plays Renaissance viols, the forerunners of today's modern strings such as violins, violas and cellos. The group has a new CD of music by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd — and it helps clear up some musical misconceptions about what that music sounded like in the 16th century.

I'm a big fan of movies about the Elizabethan age. But I've always been bothered by the music, which, for the most part, is historic fakery. Let's face it: Queen Elizabeth never heard a symphony. Modern orchestras wouldn't exist for centuries. So what did Queen Elizabeth really listen to? Well, music by Byrd, for one.

Hear Phantasm Play Byrd's Fantasia 'To The Vyolls'

Cover for William Byrd: Complete Consort Music

William Byrd: Complete Consort Music

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Hear Phantasm Play Byrd's Fantasia 'To The Vyolls'

  • Song:
  • from William Byrd: Complete Consort Music
  • by Phantasm

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Song
William Byrd: Complete Consort Music
Album
William Byrd: Complete Consort Music
Artist
Phantasm
Label
Linn Records
Released
2009

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Byrd was a really intense fellow. Someone wrote of him then that he was "naturally disposed to gravity and piety." True enough. He paid serious attention to craft in all his music, even when composing pieces one might call "lite." Here's his instrumental exploration of a popular tune called "Greening of the Leaves." Everyone knew the words: "The leaves be green, the nuts be brown/They hang so high, they will not come down."

Phantasm Plays William Byrd's 'The Leaves Be Green'

Cover for William Byrd: Complete Consort Music

William Byrd: Complete Consort Music

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Hear Phantasm Play Byrd's 'The Leaves Be Green'

  • Song:
  • from William Byrd: Complete Consort Music
  • by Phantasm

Buy Featured Music

Song
William Byrd: Complete Consort Music
Album
William Byrd: Complete Consort Music
Artist
Phantasm
Label
Linn Records
Released
2009

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

The players of Phantasm handle the complexities and nuances of Byrd's style with perfection. His agile melodies sound spontaneous. His rich harmonies emerge as full-bodied colors. His dense counterpoint sounds easygoing. Indeed, the earthy elegance of William Byrd's music is perfectly matched to this ensemble's temperament. Let's hope that the director of the next Queen Elizabeth movie gives them a call.

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