Earthy Elizabethan Elegance From William Byrd | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Earthy Elizabethan Elegance From William Byrd

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.

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."

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.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Math Is Everywhere, But Especially On National Mall This Weekend

The first National Math Festival of its kind comes to the District Saturday, taking over the National Mall and Smithsonian museums.
NPR

How The Food Industry Relies On Scientists With Big Tobacco Ties

Critics of the system that ushers food products to market say it is rife with conflicts of interest. When scientists depend on food companies for work, they may be less likely to contest food safety.
NPR

On Links As In Life, D.C. Bipartisan Relations Are Deep In The Rough

Golf is a sport that's been enjoyed by both Democrats and Republicans through the decades, but bipartisan golf outings may be disappearing like a shanked tee shot into a water hazard.
NPR

What Does It Take To Feel Secure?

Computer security expert Bruce Schneier says there's a big difference between feeling secure and being secure. He explains why we worry about unlikely dangers while ignoring more probable risks.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.