Music fit for heaven: New CD of William Byrd Masses by Choir of Westminster Cathedral

I often work in complete silence.  Long gone are the days when I could listen to music and get anything meaningful accomplished.  It pulls my attention, and I have little enough brainpower as it is.

However, as I type I am listening to the new CD from the Choir of Westminster Cathedral of William Byrd’s Three Masses and Ave Verum Corpus.  What a pleasure.   (UK link HERE)

This was a gift from my amazon wishlist from DH!  Thanks!

To give you a mere taste of what I am hearing, here is a video from when Pope Benedict said Mass at Westminster Cathedral during his monumentally important State Visit to Scotland and England.

This is the Agnus Dei from the Mass for 5 voices.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Archicantor says:

    Westminster Cathedral has been in the “toppest” tier of of English men and boys’ choirs for some years now. No mystery, really: every Master of Music since 1979 has been an Anglican! (There’s something to be said for the wisdom of the Egyptians.) Stephen Cleobury (now of King’s College, Cambridge) was, I believe, the first non-Catholic to hold the post. He edited stacks of Renaissance music for the men to sing at daily Vespers.

    Byrd is a deliciously ambiguous part of the “Anglican Patrimony”. Enjoy your listening, Father.

  2. Archicantor says: “Anglican Patrimony”

    William Byrd, Catholic.

    Also, Byrd associated with St. Robert Southwell, the Jesuit martyr, whose body is in Westminster Cathedral, nisi fallor.

  3. Charles E Flynn says:

    From The Three Masses of William Byrd, by Charles Cole:

    It was perhaps partly in deference to these original performances in Tudor times that Martin Baker, the Master of Music, decided to make quite a radical change to the way the choir was recorded. Most of the Cathedral Choir’s recordings are made in the Apse, the usual liturgical singing position of the choir, however for this recording, the choir stood on the Sanctuary in a large square facing inwards towards Martin Baker, who stood at the centre. The effect is very different, both intimate and powerful, with a noticeable change in the acoustics. There is a heightened sense of dynamic range, with diminuendi of extraordinary control which taper into nothingness. And although this music will be very familiar to anyone in regular proximity to a traditional Catholic choir, there is a real sense of a new experience when listening to this recording.

  4. amont says:

    Was there ever a DVD or a CD of the entire Papal Mass in Westminister Cathederal ?

    Thank you

  5. HighMass says:

    Oh how we miss Pope Benedict saying/singing the Mass. More Latin than we have now….his reform of the reform… started hopefully continues to move forward….

    God Bless You Pope Benedict….you are so greatly missed

  6. benedetta says:

    Beautiful! Last school year I integrated William Byrd with St. Robert Southwell during our Shakespeare study for homeschooled middle schoolers, and the English martyrs. For any who are interested for their homeschool curriculum, Emmanuel Books has a great digital download for sale on St. Robert Southwell with excellent background and further study suggestions including background on William Byrd. Finally, if anyone would like to google EWTN’s show with Fr. Apostoli they can find a show from a couple that has done profound background research into this topic who are available to speak to parishes. I asked them to visit our class and our students were keenly interested. This whole area of Catholic history, its writers, artists, carpenters (priest holes etc), and most especially those who sacrificed their lives, is fascinating. Our teen Catholics are ready for the challenges of our times and in studying this era they understand what the stakes are, and that they are never alone in witnessing for the Faith, come what may.

  7. Archicantor says:

    Hence the word “ambiguous“, Father! Of course Byrd was an obstinate recusant Catholic. But he was also protected and promoted by “the pretended queen of England and the servant of crime” (Regnans in excelsis), for whom he wrote sublime service music for the liturgy of the Church of England that is still sung liturgically to this day — including the following masterpiece of ambiguity:

  8. joecct77 says:


    If you have TuneIn radio for your mobile, you can listen to Gregorian Chant 24/7 on Calm radio’s Chant channel.

    Look under Canada or search Gregorian Chant.

  9. RJHighland says:

    Our Schola and Polyphony Choir have been working on several of his pieces for the last couple years, timing is essential, I have found them to be difficult but when done well the heavens open.

  10. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I should have scrolled down before I started listening. I saw the happy glad shake of peace followed by a girl server in cassock/surplice and the bile ruined my auditory experience.

  11. blessedtolivenow says:

    After attending a Pontifical Latin Mass during which William Byrd’s Mass in Four Voices was chanted/sung I have been enthralled. William Byrd’s story of Catholic conversion and persecution is still relevant in our times. Thomas Tallis is also amazing…thank you to Pandora for bringing this into my home as beautiful background noise during morning prayer time.

  12. Genna says:

    I believe Martin Baker is Catholic, as was his predecessor James O’Donnell (now i/c at Westminster Abbey).

  13. pelerin says:

    Good to see again – that was such a memorable visit. However I must point out that the Saint whose body lies in Westminster Cathedral is St John Southworth and not St Robert Southwell. They are often confused and both were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

  14. Josemaria says:

    William Byrd’s music is simply sublime. Thank you for making us aware of this.

  15. Atra … Agenda,

    As I recall, there was some discussion of the alleged “girl server” at the time. Was it not established that this was actually a boy with longish hair? If so, that “bile” of yours may have been wasted.

  16. msc says:

    Indeed, a most beautiful and moving experience. And while I prefer ad orientem, I didn’t care what direction Benedict was facing.

  17. Stephen McMullen says:

    Oh Pope Ratzinger, How we miss you.

  18. benedetta says:

    The Lord only knows the effects of the work and creativity of “obstinate recusants” on the salvation of those whose attachment to the schism was decided through little fault of their own but due to political machinations of the elites and entitled. Seems not very ambiguous to me, at the end of the day. I have great appreciation for Shakespeare’s obstinate recusancy. Some were called to blatant and open and near instantaneous martyrdom, as in those who answered a call to vocation, which I have been informed, promised them two years maximum in ministry prior to torture and execution in the public square typically. Others were called to lead a more hidden life of sacrifice and heroic sanctity, in God’s Providence, we reap the graces from both in myriad ways even today.

    It is said that the Queen wept upon being informed of St. Robert Southwell’s brutal execution after public torture and humiliation.

  19. Mother says:

    Ordered my copy, through your portal, Fr. Z. :)

  20. Serviam1 says:

    Look what is happening on our “Side of the Pond”. Saint Paul’s Choir School, Cambridge, Massachusetts USA…America’s only Catholic all boy choir school:

    “Christmas in Harvard Square”

  21. Charles E Flynn says:

    The Hyperion Records site now has nineteen one-minute sound samples from their new recording. Click the musical notes to play the samples. Track 8 is a free download.

  22. Charles E Flynn says:

    Here is a not very original update from

    Only 19 left in stock (more on the way).

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