Along with the Cantiones Sacrae of the late sixteenth century, William Byrd’s two sets of Gradualia are a towering achievement of renaissance polyphony and epitomise the English style. Dedicated to Byrd’s patron Sir John Petre and the Catholic recusant community of which Byrd was a prominent member, the motets of the Gradualia are concise settings of the Proprium Missae for the major feasts of the church calendar.
This piece is the third in the collection of Nativity motets. Byrd opens the piece with a powerful homophonic declaration, as if the clarity and intelligibility of text is particularly important here- this is perhaps not surprising given that the opening line almost sums up the message of the collection: A day made holy dawns upon us. This brief moment of homophony does not last long however, and Byrd falls into the prevailing polyphonic texture quite quickly, often presenting new thematic ideas with pairs of voices appearing from the textural background.
This work is also available as part of a set: Byrd – Six Gradualia.