Playing Elizabeth's Tune, the television programme which The Tallis Scholars made for the BBC, explored the life and music of William Byrd, Catholic composer for a Protestant queen. In doing so it also illustrated the different styles which Byrd cultivated in his vocal music. This disc is a tribute to the all-round nature of his genius - to the kind of composer who could turn his hand to anything, and transform it.
Although Byrd was a genius to rival his teacher, Thomas Tallis, he was not required to write church music in quite so many styles as Tallis did - the political and religious situation in England in Byrd's lifetime was a little more settled. Nonetheless he had to face up to the same basic challenge as Tallis: to write music for the Protestant authorities when arguably his heart wasn't really in it; and to find opportunities to write the kind of music he really wanted to write - for the Catholic liturgy - and not be arrested for it. As in Tallis's time the compositional methods required for those two traditions were different. The Protestants wanted their music to have English words which could be heard, requiring a style which was simple enough to enable that to happen. The Catholic tradition, by this time fairly remote from Byrd, still favoured Latin texts and a style which in theory could be more elaborate. However in practice, as this disc shows, Byrd wrote quite simple music for the Catholics and, as in his Great Service, quite complex music for the Anglicans.