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CHAN 0789
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CHAN 0789

Byrd: The Great Service in the Chapel Royal

The Classical Shop
release date: June 2012

Recorded in 24 Bit / 96Khz
album available as a Studio Master
Originally recorded in 2011


Simon Ravens

Musica Contexta

The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble


St John's Church, Upper Norwood, London


Gary Cole

Ralph Couzens



Gary Cole

Andy Gammon


Record Label




Total Time - 67:06
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(c. 1540-1623)


1 Constitues cos (prima pars) 1:11
  Six-voice motet from Gradualia seu cantionum sacrarum, liber secundus (London, 1607)  
2 Venite 5:13
3 Psalm 114. When Israel came out of Egypt 1:54
4 Te Deum 9:35
5 Benedictus 9:17
6 Anthem. Sing joyfully unto God our strength 2:38


7 Nunc scio vere (prima pars) 3:50
  Six-voice motet from Gradualia seu cantionum sacrarum, liber secundus (London, 1607)  
8 Kyrie 0:54
9 Prelude in C 1:14
  Organ solo  
10 Creed 5:34


11 Hodie Simon Petrus 3:34
  Six-voice motet from Gradualia seu cantionum sacrarum, liber secundus (London, 1607)  
12 Psalm 47. O clap your hands together, all ye people 3:11
13 Magnificat 9:27
14 Verse in C 2:05
  Organ solo  
15 Nunc dimittis 5:02
16 Anthem. O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth 2:27

Musica Contexta translates literally as ‘music interwoven’, reflecting the group’s primary aim of presenting Renaissance music in the context of its original conception and function. They are joined on this recording by The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and the harpsichordist Steven Devine.
The Great Service, consisting of settings of liturgical texts for Matins, Communion, and Evensong, is among the finest music by William Byrd for the Anglican Church. He wrote this grand-scale work for two five-part choirs who, for added contrast, would sing their respective parts facing each other from either side of the church. The size of the choir was used not so much for volume or declamatory effect, as for an extraordinarily rich variety of vocal textures and sonorities.
As well as constantly changing the combination of voices, Byrd was exceptionally inventive in countless other ways, for example by varying the phrase lengths and rhythms, by throwing in unexpected harmonies, and by repeating lines in ever more elaborate ways. The endless variety with which Byrd played with the available combinations gives  the Great Service a kaleidoscopic character, which is very rare in late Renaissance music.
The Great Service is a prime example of how the written music only partially plots a Renaissance composer’s intentions for interpreters of today. It is the nature of Renaissance music, as it was written, deliberately to encourage different approaches. In the words of Simon Ravens, the Music Director of Musica Contexta: ‘That which we might consider frustratingly vague, they thought of as an open embrace of the broadest possible church of performers.’ He continues: ‘And although our performance resonates with thoughts of the Chapel Royal, we have not attempted to tie this recording, taken as a whole, to any particular occasion or place: the evidence for us to reconstruct any such event simply does not exist.’ It has been suggested, however, that the whole work may have been written for the fortieth anniversary in 1598 of Queen Elizabeth’s accession.

 "...Performances are all first- rate. A welcome new look at an old master."

Tony Way - Limelight magazine - 11 April 2013

“...With organist Steven Divine, Ravens creates an imagined reconstruction of its performance there. The result has an almost Iberian flavour but the sense of ceremony, decoration and wealth is powerfully conveyed.”

Anna Picard – The Independent on Sunday – 2 September 2012

“The magnificent series of recordings by The Cardinall’s Musick under Andrew Carwood has brought the sacred music of William Byrd to a new generation of listeners...”

Richard Lawrence – Gramophone magazine – September 2012

“...this is a first-class recording of a familiar masterpiece in a refreshed guise, underpinned by honest, open-minded scholarship, and realised with creative flair. It’s a resounding success.”

Peter Lynan – International Record Review – July/August  2012

I can't stop listening to this amazing album. I'm quite familiar with the music, but I've never heard it like this before. The vocal perfomance by Musica Contexta is wonderful, but with the glorious instrumentation (cornetts, sackbuts & organ) the music becomes new and exciting. Each track brings an even greater surprise. I can completely buy into the premise that The Great Service might have actually been performed in this way and when I close my eyes I am transported to a magnificient performance in the Chapel Royal or a great Tudor cathedral. The recorded sound is excellent too.
S White