William Byrd, Te Deum laudamus

William Byrd’s setting of this canticle traditionally sung at Morning Prayer is part of his “Great Service.” The adjective “great” means “large,” not “excellent.” And the noun “service” refers to the three services that were part of the daily Anglican liturgical life: Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer.

The collection known as the “Great Service” includes three of the canticles appointed for use during Morning Prayer (Venite, Te Deum, and Benedictus), two texts from Holy Communion (the Kyrie and the Creed), and two of the canticles sung during Evening Prayer (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis).

Byrd’s Great Service, writes conductor Peter Phillips, “is the most elaborate and the lengthiest setting of these standard liturgical texts ever written for the Anglican Church.” Where most Elizabethan service music was sung by a choir of five voices, Byrd doubles the standard forces and employs ten parts. Byrd uses them, explains Byrd biographer Kerry McCarthy, “to create a kaleidoscopic variety of sounds, with the voices constantly weaving in and out, combining, doubling, and dividing to create new effects.”

Here is a performance of the Te Deum from Byrd’s Great Service, sung by the Tallis Scholars, conducted by Peter Phillips.

About this recording

This 1987 album by the Tallis Scholars features all of William Byrd’s Great Service except the Kyrie. It also includes three of Byrd’s finest anthems: O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth, O God, the proud are risen, and Sing joyfully unto God. This last work, writes conductor Peter Phillips) “is surely Byrd’s most accomplished anthem, full of jubilation and, at the end, extended musical argument.”