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 work, written for Corpus Christi, details Christ’s explanation of his self sacrifice: ‘I am that bread of life… which I will give for the life of the world.’ The music is similarly profound, and like the other pieces in the collection, follows the text very closely, with an almost complete absence of melisma. The rather spirited imitative music of the final section represents Christ’s idea that his death should not be mourned but celebrated as the saving grace of mankind.
This work is also available as part of a set: Byrd – Six Gradualia.