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.
Gallicantus are perfectly placed here to compare the works of William Byrd and Philippe de Monte – The Independent
The singing is beyond exemplary: deeply felt, tenderly phrased, perfectly balanced, with the most profound understanding, seemingly bred in the bone – Choir & Organ
The intensity of the music is reflected in Gallicantus’s beautifully shaped performances – The Sunday Times
In Mark Chambers, Gallicantus boast a countertenor ‘lead’ of near-flawless poise and eloquence – Gramophone