The Word Unspoken


William Byrd, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, was a confirmed and practising catholic who worshipped in defiance of the Queen. His status and perhaps even his life was preserved thanks partly to the undeniable mastery of his music, and to the fact that he was careful to maintain an output of music appropriate for a Protestant Rite (simple and English) as well as a Catholic one (florid and Latin).

Byrd was by no means the only major Catholic composer working in England during these years. Furthermore, there were English composers whose faith drove them to work abroad, as well as foreign composers who offered sympathy and encouragement to English catholics. Included in this latter category was the Flemish composer Phillipe De Monte who entered into a fascinating compositional correspondence with Byrd. Verses of Psalm 136 ‘Super Flumina Babylonis’ (containing many allegorical references to the plight of catholics unable to practice their faith openly) were set to music and exchanged, in what is now seen as an encoded message of mutual support and friendship between brothers in faith.
The texts reveal the Catholic community’s sense of isolation (“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” – Quomodo Cantabimus) and bereavement (“Jerusalem is wasted” – Ne Irascaris), and the elaborate, poetic nature of the encoded messages distributed within it through music.
The early-music consort Gallicantus (led by former King’s Singer Gabriel Crouch) is drawn from the ranks of recent BBC Music Magazine award-winning choir Tenebrae. 

What people are saying

"Gallicantus are perfectly placed here to compare the works of William Byrd and Philippe de Monte"  The Independent, July 2012

"The singing is beyond exemplary: deeply felt, tenderly phrased, perfectly balanced, with the most profound understanding, seemingly bred in the bone." Choir & Organ, September 2012

"The intensity of the music is reflected in Gallicantus’s beautifully shaped performances" The Sunday Times, July 2012

"… delivered with such intelligence and rhetorical persuasiveness that the cumulative weight of their Byrd, in particular, is well-nigh symphonic in effect … ‘Domine’ is here as moving as it’s ever been. One should also say that in Mark Chambers, Gallicantus boast a countertenor ‘lead’ of near-flawless poise and eloquence." Gramophone, Vocal Disc of the Month

Gabriel Crouch director

Release date:4th Jun 2012
Order code:SIGCD295
Barcode: 635212029527

December 2012

BBC Radio 3 – CD Review, Best of 2012

Andrew McGregor [AM]: Good morning, and welcome to our annual pre-Christmas CD Review special edition, The Critic’s Choice… CD Review regulars Caroline Gill, Harriet Smith and Edward Seckerson join me in about three quarters of an hour to attempt to convince us that it’s their favourite new disc that really represents the very best of 2012…


[AM]: Caroline Gill, time for your first disc of the year. Now we’re heading back in time almost four centuries… Convince us that we really need The Word Unspoken from Gabriel Crouch’s vocal ensemble, Gallicantus.

[CG]: Well, from the enormous personalities of the last two I think my choice might be slightly more contemplative but for those people that know of Gallicantus’s two previous discs, one of music by Robert White and one of music on lamentations on the death of Prince Henry in 1612, you’ll know that the slightly obscure programming is Gallicantus’s calling card. They link seemingly unlinked works and composers. This one is, I think, the most beautiful and tender so far of their discs. It’s about the solidarity shown between Phillipe de Monte and William Byrd all the way across Europe during the prosecution of the Catholics under Elizabeth I, and both composers take parts of Psalm 136 and set it to music. The voices in the group, and it’s a very small group, are very distinct, but they work together so beautifully and it’s driven from the inside. They have this tenor who just creates and supports and drives the phrasing in a way that makes the sound radiate around it. They’re terribly serious – and that’s a good thing. I think it’s possible with polyphony of this period to sing it too crystalline and with too much reverence, and it has a huge danger of becoming a museum piece if you do that. Whereas, with Gallicantus, their seriousness and their commitment to it something that makes it sound really quite unique and special.


[AM]: The Vigilate from William Byrd’s Cantiones Sacrae of 1589, sung by Gallicantus. Caroline, those voices! The blend in the acoustic, as well! It’s really special.

[CG]: Absolutely. And their phrasing is just extraordinary and the subtlety of the outer parts makes it really live and breathe as perfect polyphony, and – again – you have that sparkling tenor sound in there which allows that sound to radiate out from around it.

[AM]: It’s very unusual, isn’t it? It brings a different kind of focus to the texture. Well this is meat and drink to Caroline, obviously. Harriet, are we out of your comfort zone?

Harriet Smith [HS]: You’re slightly out of my comfort zone from the point of view of listening. I find this music extraordinary to sing, but takes a little more to listen to. I love the way that the sound is balanced. They’ve obviously concentrated hugely on creating a beautiful sound. I love the bass line, which we haven’t actually mentioned yet, and the balance of voices is quite extraordinary. Sometimes I found that I wanted to get more from the texts – maybe that’s because I’ve been listening to too much Handel recently, I don’t know. For me, this is music at its best when listened to in a live situation; whether it’s sung, or whether I’m sitting there in a slightly chilly ecclesiastical setting late at night. On record, I can find it a little bit easy to switch off.

[AM]: The world is breathlessly waiting for Seckerson’s views on Renaissance choral music – not!

[ES]: No, I did get into the ‘zone’. That heightened state of awareness. I’m fascinated by how the movement of the harmony creates such intensity of feeling in this music, and particularly the Byrd – where you were talking about the connection with the text, Harriet – but, for me, that’s what makes the Byrd setting so special. It’s wonderful then to shift to the de Monte; you feel the air change in the room. There’s a lightening of texture and someone used the word in the sleeve that it’s very ‘feminine’, and I latched onto that.

[AM]: It’s lovely reading about the way that they communicate with each other; that Byrd was responding to a Motet that de Monte had sent him. It was almost as if they were finishing each other’s musical sentences, yet with a different kind of intonation…

[CG]: Musical performance of this kind of repertoire is constantly changing and evolving. People are doing extremely exciting things and there are some extremely exciting recordings of this sort of repertoire this year… the Tallis Scholars, Vox Luminus, New York Polyphony [for example]. I think that this disc really is a perfect storm of personnel, programming, and this extraordinary, unique commitment to the music.

[AM]: Well it works for me. We’re going to hear the last track on the CD… 


[AM]: …Any disc that makes new friends for this fascinating world of sixteenth century sacred choral music is fine by me. The Word Unspoken is on Signum Classics, and it’s one of Caroline Gill’s best of 2012.

BBC Radio 3 – CD Review

Recordings of the Year 2012 – Musicweb International

December 2012

With contrasting examples of their most sober works here’s a fascinating exchange of motets between Philippe de Monte and Byrd, the former beauteously sorrowing in meditation, the latter light and airy in serene conviction. But what sets this disc apart is the gorgeous attention to vocal colour and glowing smoothness of tone.


Musicweb International, Michael Greenhalgh

November 2012 – Recording of the Month

For Byrd mulling over the sacred texts was how the notes suggested themselves to him. You can experience this on this CD owing to the clarity and effectiveness with which the texts are revealed through the sheer beauty of Gallicantus’s singing which is totally captivating. And that beauty is a paradox for here are some of the most desolate texts. Yet setting them with some beauty is itself a form of catharsis. So take track 1, Tristitia et anxietas, where there’s much, languishing focus on ‘in dolore’ from 2:22, an experience of mourning you could class as indulgent except that it’s so deeply felt. Then there’s the personal nature of the witness, the recognition of guilt at ‘quia peccavi’ from 4:19 working to a climax, the plea for comfort, ‘consolare’ (6:53) and growingly affirmative closing prayer ‘et miserere mei’ (8:04). After this the more madrigalian motet Vigilate (tr. 2) with the springing force of its imitation of cock crow at ‘an gallicantu’, notably in the top line at 1:42, receives a relatively serene, contemplative treatment yet one which clarifies the text is a homily.

Tribulationes civitatum (tr. 3) is striking for its imploring trust, ‘Domine, ad te sunt oculi nostri’, ‘Lord, our eyes are fixed on thee’ (1:21) combined with fear, ‘ne pereamus’, ‘don’t let us perish’ (1:35). And there’s variety of style from a madrigalian picture of flight to the simple plea, ‘Domine, miserere’, ‘Lord, have mercy’ (5:49). The piece closes with an appeal for pity which grows more urgent, climaxing in the top line’s almost brutal statement of affliction (8:59). This close has the same text as the next motet,Vide, Domine, afflictionem nostrum (tr. 4), now cast in a more contemplative and bleak mould. The pain now is in the harmonies, especially the colouring of ‘desolata’ (1:41), desolate Jerusalem. Its sustained sorrow dwells on bitterness, change of circumstances and pleading for restoration with touching intimacy, ‘da nobis, Domine’ (4:39), and a quiet and humble ‘et miserere’ (5:33). 

Ne irascaris (tr. 5), the best known piece on this CD, here has a warmth of fervent witness, heartfelt confession yet also the beaming appeal of ‘Ecce’, ‘Behold’ (1:41) and humility of reminder, ‘populus tuus’, ‘your people’ (from 2:35). At 5:13 on ‘deserta’ Gallicantus sing the fruity chord as originally printed, which I like, though it’s out of favour with scholars nowadays. Unforgettable is the poise Gallicantus give ‘Sion deserta’, ‘Zion the wilderness’ (5:49) whose rare absence of counterpoint brings a sense of vast space. I compared the 2001 recording by The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 309). Carwood’s greater rhythmic emphasis creates a more protesting, dramatic account, with ‘populus tuus’ more urgent yet ‘Sion deserta’ no more than a stark statement. This CD now changes composer and de Monte is different. The text of Domine, quid multiplicati sunt (tr. 6), a protest against persecution, is uncompromising yet the music is quite luminous in Gallicantus’s performance, serenely distilled smoothly flowing descents even when friends are ‘de longe’, standing far away (4:43). There’s moving sadness, however, at the recollection of those friends, ‘Amici mei’ (2:52) and force to the activity, ‘quaerebant’, of enemies (5:23). De Monte’s Miserere mei setting (tr. 7) is closer to Byrd, in more wan colours and more plaintive but the fundamental melodic line remains smooth and pure, clarifying the text and there’s a telling sense of gratitude at ‘qui benefecit mihi’, the recognition of having been blessed (from 2:32).Voce mea (tr. 8) has more active melismata on ‘clamavi’, ‘I cried’ (from 0:11) and a sustained pointing across the parts identifying tribulation (from 1:37). But there’s something abstract about this: there isn’t the immediacy of suffering of the Byrd settings. O suavitas et dulcedo (tr. 9) begins with de Monte’s preference for consonant adoration depicting Christ’s birth. Yet this piece in 8 vocal parts has more contrapuntal embellishment and involvement akin to that Byrd favoured. The texture is thinned for the personal recognition of ‘qui pro nostra’ (1:11), it was for us Christ was ‘in cruce extensus’, stretched out on the cross (1:45), then thickened for the earnest prayer ‘rogo te’, ‘I beg you’ (2:47). 

In 1583 de Monte sent Byrd his motet for 8 voices, Super flumen Babylonis. You’ll notice in Gallicantus’s performance the early emphasis ‘illic’, ‘there’, emphasising the problem is one of place before the sudden, magical release of rising crotchets, a quicker rhythm, for ‘cantionum’ (2:20), the reference to song, what the composer really is about. And it’s the text ‘Quomodo cantabimus’, ‘How shall we sing?’ (2:35) which de Monte makes especially sad before the close from 3:56 is haunted by the slight fall of ‘suspendimus’, ‘we hung up’ and then cascading descent of ‘organa’, ‘instruments’. I compared the 1997 recording by The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood (ASV Gaudeamus CDGAU 179). They sing the piece a third higher and use sopranos in the top lines to more piercing effect. Their interweaving of de Monte’s two 4-part choruses is more dramatic, the rhythms more urgent, so the piece becomes more painfully direct yet has less of Gallicantus’s quality of soulful lament. 

This CD’s title, ‘The word unspoken’, if you like subtext posed by de Monte, is ‘How can you be creative as a Roman Catholic in an alien and dangerous environment?’, the advice given, ‘Stop trying to compose there and emigrate’. Byrd replied in 1584 titling his piece with that phrase Quomodo cantabimus, but from a smoother base and using 8 vocal parts all the time so the emphasis, particularly in the Gallicantus account, is on flowing rhythm and activity. The contrast is startling, partly because of Byrd’s higher tessitura and Gallicantus’s addition for this piece alone on the CD of sopranos on the top line. Mainly because Byrd’s descents here are serene and the emphasis is on rising progressions so the effect is of ever moving towards heaven. Most memorable in the later part is the madrigalian lightness of ‘in principio laetitiae’, ‘at the beginning of my joy’ (tr. 11 3:48). The Cardinall’s Musick perform this piece a tone higher and in a much more measured fashion, timing 8:54 against Gallicantus 6:28. The effect is more ethereal and the parts’ frequent repetition of the text is etched more clearly but there’s not Gallicantus’s sense of spontaneity of grateful acceptance of heritage. Byrd says ‘I stay true to my faith and roots’.

Musicweb International, Michael Greenhalgh

October 2012

The contents of this disc may be easily summed up in the tide of the opening motet by Byrd, ‘Tristitia et anxietas’. While, as Sally Dunkley points out in her programme note, "only a handful of the 1589 and 1591 Cautiones Sacrae present cheerful texts", and these are studiously avoided in this programme built upon the sufferings of the believer in a hostile land. Culminating in beautiful performances of Byrd and Monte’s famous collaboration (one might almost say commiseration) Super flumina Babylonis/Quomodo cantabimus, this CD brings together some of Byrd’s most agonized musical utterances with some surprisingly melancholy works by Monte. While it is easy to understand Byrd’s anguish as a recusant catholic trapped in a hostile religious climate, it is harder to understand the source of Monte’s suffering, blessed as he seemed to be as a catholic in a catholic empire, bent on the conquest of Europe. But Byrd’s religious alienation found a direct counter-part in Monte’s exile from his beloved Flanders. Both men it seems were ‘singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land’, and what powerful music this feeling gave rise to! Galicantus give highly charged, heart-rending accounts of this work, and the final coming together in psalm 137 is almost unbearably poignant. 

Early Music Review, D. James Ross

September 2012

Gallicantus explores Byrd’s fascinating ‘personal musical exchange’ with Philippe de Monte in The Word Unspoken. Six Byrd motets sit alongside five by the Italian who, like Richafort, deserves to step out from under the shadow cast by giant contemporaries.The singing is beyond exemplary: deeply felt, tenderly phrased, perfectly balanced, with the most profound understanding, seemingly bred in the bone.

Choir & Organ, Rebecca Tavener

October 2012 issue, Vocal Disc of the Month

The idea of pairing Philippe de Monte and William Byrd has been tried previously by pairing the two motets that they’re known to have exchanged- de Monte’s Superflumina and Byrd’s Quomodo cantabimus; but Gallicantus here extend the comparison by putting several works by both side by side, mostly with a similarly penitential theme. Each composer’s works are presented en bloc, which gives a chance to hear a sequence of some of Byrd’s most extended and powerful utterances from the 1589 Cantiones sacrae. Only the lighter Vigilate breaks the solemn mood but any fear of monotony that such an approach courts is entirely dispelled by the quality and concentration of the performances themselves. The ensemble’s view of this repertory, though hardly new, is delivered with such intelligence and rhetorical persuasiveness that the cumulative weight of their Byrd, in particular, is well-nigh symphonic in effect. Tribulationes civatatum illustrates these qualities admirably, and Ne irascaris, Domine is here as moving as it’s ever been. One should also say that in Mark Chambers, Gallicantus boast a countertenor ‘lead’ of near-flawless poise and eloquence.

Against such celebrated pieces, it would be unfair to claim that de Monte suffers in comparison to his younger contemporary. His meltingly beautiful O suavitas et dulcedo (the one piece that appears in virtually every de Monte anthology) is given a strikingly different reading to any of the previous, in its way as interiorised as anything in the Byrd set, and the other pieces make their point in a similarly unaffected way. Only the most prejudiced critics of ‘the English sound’, I’d say, could dispute that Gallicantus achieves something rather special here.

Gramophone, Fabrice Fitch

August 2012

The extraordinary nature of William Byrd’s life and the impact that it had on his music has been well documented on disc since the late 60s when, amongst others, Sir David Willcocks and The Choir of King’s College Cambridge recorded motets by Byrd And His Contemporaries (EMI 1965) and Cantores In Ecclesia directed By Michael Howard recorded the Cantiones Sacrae of 1575 over three LPs (1969 SOL 313). Since then, recordings that have stood out for me include The Choir of New College Oxford (CRD 1983) with their steely treble sound and, most recently, the professional vocal ensembles of Andrew Carwood’s The Cardinall’s Musick and David Skinner’s Alamire. These last two in particular have set the bar extremely high in terms of modern performance standards and through the clarity and passion of their interpretations they have revealed more of the layers of Byrd’s genius.

Despite this rich recorded history, there are two compelling reasons why a new disc from Galicantus is not to be overlooked: programming and performance. Starting with the latter, Gallicantus made their debut with an exceptionally beautiful disc of music by Robert White (Signum: Hymns, Psalms & Lamentations SIGCD134) which really first bought them to my attention. Their sound could generally be described as rich and well-blended with a generous bassy tone. They have two especially fine countertenors (Mark Chambers and David Allsopp) who manage to be quite present in the texture without ever allowing to the top line to skew the polyphonic balance. That in itself is worthy of note. Their second disc was called Dialogues of Sorrow (SIGCD210) and revealed the second quality – a fine nose for programming from the director Gabriel Crouch.

This new disc – The Word Unspoken – delves into the sub-text of motets by Philippe de Monte and William Byrd. This is not a new discovery; the relationship between these two composers was discussed in vol. 3 of the Byrd Edition (Andrew Carwood / The Cardinall’s Musick) which ended with the same two astonishing motets as does this new disc. However, Gallicantus have rightfully spotted that the connections in the music of these two men has still not been fully explored and, as such, this disc goes a long way to offering us further understanding of this fascinating conversation all performed to a high standard with excellent notes by Sally Dunkley.

It is well known that de Monte spent time in London travelling with Philip II of Spain and we can infer that during this time the Spanish composer met William Byrd because 30 years later he sent him a copy of his motet Super flumina Bablylonis and Byrd responded in kind by sending his exquisite 8-part Quomodo cantabimus. The motet as a medium for political subtext is a theme well explored by, amongst others, Craig Monson (see in particular: "Byrd, the Catholics, and the Motet: the Hearing Reopened." In Hearing the Motet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.). If Babylonian captivity is a potent symbol for the plight of the persecuted Catholics in England, then surely the subtext is obvious when de Monte asks Byrd “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” to which the Englishman replies: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand fall idle.”

What has always intrigued me about this particular correspondence is the idea that Byrd might has asked his singers to perform de Monte’s motet. Would the resulting performance have been anything that de Monte himself might have recognized? Might Byrd have remembered idiocyncracies of the Spanish singing style from their visit 30 years previously and asked for them to be applied? And what of de Monte receiving Byrd’s motet in Spain, would be have understood the nuances of the style, or would he have looked first at the text?

This particular pair comes last on the CD and Gallicantus sing both with their confident blend – men’s voices for de Monte and the addition of Amy Moore and Clare Wilkinson for Byrd. I agree that it is best to avoid any appropriation of special ‘Spanish’ flavour for de Monte (he was a displaced Northerner anyway). In fact, de Monte’s motet is one of the best on the disc. However, the famous Byrd response – one of his finest moments – is, for my tastes, simply a touch too fast. Having said that, this speed – much fresher than the iconic Carwood recording – does invite some fresh speculation on the text which has made me realize I had lazily assumed Byrd’s response was wistful. Maybe there is a more positive message at work here after all?

Elsewhere on the disc these fine performances reveal some fantastic motets by de Monte and revisit some of Byrd’s finest music – all to an exceptionally high standard. Gallicantus also offer us a sublime performance Byrd’s finest Ne irascaris Domine. This is one of the most beautifully poised recordings of this motet that I have ever heard with alto, Mark Chambers, effortlessly balancing the oaky lower voices with a silvery tone. Unforgettable. 

Musical, Ed Breen

July 2012
This disc recalls the remarkable exchange between William Byrd and the Flemish composer Philippe de Monte in the 1580s.
De Monte sent Byrd his eight-part motel Super flumina Babylonis. Byrd replied with the eight-part Quomodo cantabimus. These powerful works take their texts from the same psalm, alluding to captivity and exile – a gesture of solidarity for the recusant Catholic Byrd, a subtly conspiratorial reply from the Englishman. The intensity of the music is reflected in Gallicantus’s beautifully shaped performances, even if we miss now the raw sense of peril that English Catholics must then have felt.


The Sunday Times, Stephen Petit

July 2012
As a specialist early-music consort, Gallicantus are perfectly placed here to compare the works of William Byrd and Philippe de Monte – the one a Catholic recusant fortunate in the favour of Elizabeth I for his simpler Protestant pieces, the other a Flemish sympathiser and correspondent. Gallicantus render exquisitely the ornate verses of Byrd’s Cantiones Sacrae, their interwoven timbres cascading in noble equilibrium; but the most direct comparison is between de Monte’s "Superflumina Babylonis" and Byrd’s "Quomodo cantabimus", both derived from Psalm 136, which subsequently gave the world Boney M’s deathless "Rivers of Babylon". In this case at least, music is the winner, whichever one prefers.

The Independent

  1. Tristitia et anxietas (from Cantiones Sacrae) – William Byrd – 9.17
  2. Vigilate (from Cantiones Sacrae) – William Byrd – 4.38
  3. Tribulationes civitatum (from Cantiones Sacrae) – William Byrd – 9.24
  4. Vide, Domine, afflictionem (from Cantiones Sacrae) – William Byrd – 7.57
  5. Ne irascaris (from Cantiones Sacrae) – William Byrd – 8.46
  6. Domine, quid multiplicati sunt (from Motets Book V) – Philippe de Monte – 5.47
  7. Miserere mei, Deus (from Motets Book V) – Philippe de Monte – 3.33
  8. Voce mea ad Dominum clamavi (from Motets Book V) – Philippe de Monte – 3.02
  9. O suavitas et dulcedo – Philippe de Monte – 5.04
  10. Super flumina Babylonis – Philippe de Monte – 5.19
  11. Quomodo cantabimus – William Byrd – 6.28