1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Byrd

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 5:291-92.



WILLIAM BIRD, an eminent musician and composer, was one of the children of the chapel in the reign of Edward VI. and, as asserted by Wood in the Ashmolean MS. was bred up under Tallis. It appears, that in 1575 Tallis and Bird were both gentlemen and also organists of the royal chapel; but the time of their appointment to this latter office cannot now be ascertained with any exactness. The compositions of Bird are many and various; those of his younger years were mostly for the service of the church. He composed a work entitled "Sacrarum Cantionum, quinque vocum," printed in 1589; among which is that noble composition "Civitas sancti tui," which for many years past has been sung in the church as an anthem, to the words "Bow thine ear, O Lord!" He was also the author of a work entitled "Gradulia, ac Cantiones sacrae, quintis, quaternis, trinisque vocibus concinnatae, lib. primus." Of this there are two editions, the latter published in 1610. Although it appears by these works, that Bird was in the strictest sense a church musician, he occasionally gave to the world compositions of a secular kind; and he seems to be the first among English musicians that ever made an essay in the composition of that elegant species of vocal harmony, the madrigal; the "La Verginella" of Ariosto, which he set in that form for five voices, being the most ancient musical composition of the kind to be met with in the works of English authors. Of his compositions for private entertainment, there are extant, "Songs of sundry natures, some of gravitie, and others of myrth, fit for all companies and voyces, printed in 1589;" and two other collections of the same kind, the last of them printed in 1611. But the most permanent memorials of Bird's excellencies are his motets and anthems; to which may be added a fine service in the key of D with the minor third, the first composition in Dr. Boyce's Cathedral Music, vol. III. and that well-known canon of his, "Non nobis, Domine." Besides his salaries and other emoluments of his profession, it is to be supposed that Bird derived some advantages from the patent granted by queen Elizabeth to Tallis and him, for the sole printing of music and music-paper; Dr. Ward speaks of a book which he had seen with the letters T. E. for Thomas East, or Este, who printed music under that patent. Tallis dying in 1585, the patent, by the terms of it, survived to Bird. who, no doubt for a valuable consideration, permitted East to exercise the right of printing under the protection of it; and he in the title-page of most of his publications styles himself as "assignee of William Bird." Bird died in 1623.