Commissioned by Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon, conductor
By William Byrd, arr. Muhly. Inclusive of 'Bow thine ear, O Lord' & 'Miserere mei, Deus'
William Byrd’s music has always fascinated me both as a composer and as an erstwhile choirboy; on the page it looks like so little, but then in its realisation, an enormous emotional landscape unfolds. When Nick Collon asked if I might try to orchestrate a few motets for Aurora, I jumped at the chance. There is a moment in Byrd’s Miserere mei, Deus where the key suddenly shifts into an unexpected major, and the rhythmic footprint slows down. I aimed for an outrageous, but quiet, amplification of this moment that fascinated me as a treble; here, it is punctuated by registral extremes in the piano: gamelan gongs in the left hand and toy piano in the right. The second piece I arranged is Bow thine ear, O Lord, which is said to be one of Byrd’s most personal expressions of faith and the turmoil surrounding it. It has in it one of the high-water marks of the choral tradition, namely Byrd’s setting of the phrase “Sion is wasted and brought low”, which he sets twice in two different octaves, and it is scandalously lush even when performed by the most austere of choirs. Here, it’s brass, marimba, and ghostly strings, a texture that expands into the celesta and woodwinds intoning the word “Jerusalem”. I should point out that these are very liberal arrangements of the originals; occasionally, I have rendered the effect of one alto holding onto a note too long, a wayward tenor, a day-dreaming treble.
Byrd/Muhly: Bow thine ear
Byrd/Muhly: Miserere mei
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