Text-setting in William Byrd's Liber primus sacrarum cantionum quinque vocum (1589): toward an analytic methodology Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Gersh, Jason Andrew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
  • From Fellowes through Kerman, it has become a commonplace that Byrd was acutely sensitive to text and somehow managed to translate that sensitivity into his musical settings. In the famous preface to his 1605 Gradualia, Byrd himself hints that sacred texts have the power to aid the trained mind in setting them to music. Yet relatively little has been done in any systematic way in Byrd scholarship to examine just how his text-setting might operate. However, within Byrd's 1589 Cantiones-a collection of Latin sacred songs-lies an array of evidence of how he prioritized various musical and extramusical factors in his setting of the texts. In my dissertation I begin to uncover this evidence through an examination of four compositional tools and concepts available to Byrd: (1) rhetorical commonplaces, musical and spiritual; (2) mode; (3) texture; and (4) sonority. While some compositional tools and concepts appear to lie almost entirely in the musical realm and bear little impact upon text-setting, others play a powerful role in determining textmusic relationships. As I discuss in chapter 2, rhetorical figures and a broadly conceived notion of decorum are central to text-setting in Byrd's 1589 Cantiones, and they correlate quite powerfully with a broad range of musical features that I discuss in more detail later in the dissertation. In chapter 3, I tackle the topic of mode and examine the correlations between text and pitch organization as manifested by phenomena such as cadences, commixtio, and tessitura. In chapter 4, I examine the relationship between text and texture, paying particular attention to counterpoint, voice entries, and textural density. In chapter 5, I discuss Byrd's settings from the standpoint of text as sonority, considering how Byrd deals with phonemes, syllabic accents, and syntax. And in my conclusion, I compare and contrast the various tools and concepts discussed in the body of the dissertation along with the evidence they have brought forth in order to propose a methodology for analyzing textsetting in Byrd's sacred works.
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  • Carter, Tim
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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