From Saturday 1 to Wednesday 12 July, BBC Radio 3 presents Byrdsong – a season of special programming celebrating one of the most influential British composers of the late Renaissance, William Byrd, in the 400th anniversary year of his death (4th July 1623).

Listings information

Saturday 1 July

Record Review: A survey of William Byrd with Kirsten Gibson and Andrew McGregor

09:00 – 11:45

Andrew McGregor is joined by Newcastle University Head of Music Kirsten Gibson to survey the huge range of recordings of works by William Byrd. Also on the programme, percussionist Colin Currie brings in his personal selection of new releases, as well as the track he currently has “On Repeat”.


Music Matters

11:45 – 12:30

In this special episode of the programme, Tom Service considers William Byrd’s music in the context of the acoustics of Lincoln Cathedral, and explores Byrd’s lasting influence on composers today.

Sunday 2 July

The Early Music Show

14:00 – 15:00

Although best known for his vocal music, William Byrd’s keyboard music was rich and diverse, leading the way for composers such as Giles Farnaby and Thomas Tomkins. Lucie Skeaping speaks to musical director and keyboard player Steven Devine about how Byrd set the future style of English keyboard music and why it remains important now.

Monday 3 – Friday 7 July

Essential Classics: Byrdspotting

09:00 – 12:00

This week marks the culmination of Byrdspotting, a special exploration of Byrd’s miniature masterpieces, which has been presenting sixty short works (one a day for twelve weeks) since April. The miniatures featured this week are:

Ut mi re – Fantasia

Turn our captivity, O Lord

My mistress had a little dog

The first Pavan and Galliard from ‘My Lady Nevell’s Book’

Ave Verum Corpus


Composer of the Week

12:00 – 13:00
This week, Donald Macleod is joined all week by musicologist Kerry McCarthy to explore Byrd’s story and reveal a composer of determined ambition and powerful convictions. Those who encountered him, found Byrd could be a difficult adversary as well as a loyal friend. Donald also visits Essex to discover what remains of Byrd’s legacy in the places where he felt most at home, and to see how the composer navigated a hazardous path between his catholic faith and his duty to the crown at a time of great religious intolerance.

Monday 3 July: A Man of Many Parts

Today’s episode introduces some of Byrd’s varied roles and identities, as a public servant and a private individual. Donald also investigates how this sometimes isolated composer connected with the community in which he lived.

Tuesday 4 July: Lincoln

This episode follows Byrd to Lincoln where he’s been offered a prestigious new role at the cathedral. He finds there are plenty of opportunities to seize here but also some frustrating challenges; Byrd doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his ecclesiastical bosses.

Wednesday 5 July: Chapel Royal

A tragic accident leaves a vacancy at the Chapel Royal. Byrd steps up to join this elite band of musicians and works hard to make the most of his new connections at the royal court. When Queen Elizabeth awards him a patent to print music, surely fame and riches will follow?

Thursday 6 July: Recusant

Donald looks at the consequences for ‘rescuants’, like Byrd, who remained loyal to the catholic faith even though catholic worship had been outlawed by the Queen. Donald visits Ingatestone Hall, home to Byrd’s patron and fellow recusant, Sir John Petre (later Lord Petre), and investigates how they pursued their beliefs in rural Essex, while also remaining loyal servants of the crown.

Friday 7 July: Stondon Massey

Donald returns to Stondon Massey where Byrd lived for nearly 30 years, and searches for clues to his final resting place there. He looks at the legal battles Byrd initiated with some of his neighbours and explores the daring new musical project Byrd set for himself, once free of his regular obligations at the Chapel Royal.

Tuesday 4 July

Free Thinking

22:00 – 22:45

Today’s programme, hosted by social historian John Gallagher, explores a wide range of topics related to the Tudor era – the time when Byrd lived. Marrying someone based on a portrait was part of life in Renaissance Europe. An exhibition in Bath – visited by New Generation Thinker Christina Faraday – explores the politics of wedlock and painting. Former New generation Thinker Eleanor Chan has been studying the history of depicting musical notes on the page, whilst Sew What podcast host Isabella Rosner looks at needlework skills in Tudor England.

Wednesday 5 July

Choral Evensong: Live from Lincoln

16:00 – 17:00

Introit: Sing Joyfully (Byrd)
Responses: Second Lincoln Set (Byrd)
Office hymn: Caeli Deus sanctissime (Plainsong)
Psalms 27, 28, 29 (Matthews, Barnby, Attwood, Attwood, Garrett)
First Lesson: Isaiah 24 vv.1-15
Canticles: The ‘Verse’ Service (Byrd)
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 6 vv.1-11
Anthem: Ad Dominum cum tribularer (Byrd)
Hymn: Let all the world in every corner sing (Luckington)
Voluntary: Fantasia in G, FWB 261 (Byrd)

Aric Prentice (Director of Music)
Jeffrey Makinson (organist)

Thursday 6 July

Unclassified: Byrd Reworked

23:30 – 00:30

Elizabeth Alker shares original unclassifiable sonic creations made especially for the programme, as three contemporary composers offer new takes on the music of William Byrd.

Regarded as one of the great English composers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, William Byrd’s approach to creating musical structures often involved the gradual addition of layers and the overlapping of melodic ideas as well as subtle repetition and variation, techniques employed by many artists working today within ambient and experimental music.

Singer-composer Kieran Brunt takes inspiration from Civitas Sancti Tui, a motet which Byrd wrote in response to the persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth I’s early rule. Welsh composer-musician Georgia Ruth, meanwhile, responds to The Bells, a harpsichord piece in which Byrd evokes the peeling and clamouring sounds of a belfry in the countryside. And improvising composer Laura Cannell re-imagines a melancholic song by Byrd, translating the piece into an arrangement for three bass-recorders.

Sunday 9 July

Sunday Feature: Byrd & Beyond: Challenged by Faith

18:45 – 19:30

When William Byrd converted to Catholicism halfway through his long life, he did so at a time of danger and persecution.

Harry Christophers, conductor of The Sixteen, explores the composer’s religious beliefs and how these impacted on his life and art. He also examines the complex relationship between faith and music, not only in Byrd’s time but in the present day too, with contributions from contemporary composers Sir James MacMillan, Roxanna Panufnik and Nico Muhly, as well as singers, theologians and musicians who live with both the tension and inspiration of faith today.

Wednesday 12 July

Radio 3 in Concert: Byrd

19:30 – 22:00

Radio 3 in Concert delves into the composer’s influences, pervading Catholic faith, and legacy, with a concert by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, recorded at York Minster.

As well as music by the Flemish composer Philippe De Monte – who entered into a fascinating compositional correspondence with Byrd – the programme presents sombre textures of works by Clemens non Papa that inspired Byrd’s setting of Tristitia et anxietas, and take Byrd’s legacy firmly into the modern day with two new works by Dobrinka Tabakova.

Byrd – Arise Lord into thy rest

van Wilder – O doux regard

Byrd – Ne irascaris / Civitas sancti tui

de Monte – O suavitas et dulcedo

Dobrinka Tabakova – Arise Lord into thy rest (new commission)

Clemens Non Papa – Tristitia et anxietas

Byrd – Tristitia et anxietas

Byrd – Turn our captivity

Clemens Non Papa – Ego flos campi

Dobrinka Tabakova – Turn our captivity (new commission)

de Monte – Super flumina Babylonis

Byrd – Quomodo cantabimus?

Byrd – Vigilate