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William Byrd, arr. Harris: Dies Sanctificatus

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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.

Parts included:

  • Score

  • Trombone 1 (Alto)

  • Trombone 2

  • Trombone 3

  • Trombone 4 (Bass)

This work is also available as part of a set: Byrd – Six Gradualia.

William Byrd, arr. Harris: Dies Sanctificatus

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At Beethoven's funeral in 1827, two of his 'Drei Equales' for four trombones were performed. The three Beethoven pieces are without doubt the most celebrated of the Equale genre, but short chordal pieces for Trombone quartet were common in Austrian funeral music from the Eighteenth century onwards. So the term Equale, which literally just means 'equal' (referring to equal parts or voices) came to be the generic title for the very first trombone quartets.

The trombone was chose for this partiular funeral task because of its semantic association with divine presence. Its worth noting that the 'last trump' that signals the Day of Judgement in the King James Bible is 'der letzten Pasaune' in German. It is perhaps also because of this divine association, along with its technical superiority to the other early brass instruments, that the trombone was used from the Eighteenth century onwards in so many sacred choral works, long before its introduction into the symphony orchestra, often doubling the parts of the choir.

Drawing on these two elements of the trombone's history, the Equale series consists of choral works (mostly sacred in nature) arranged for trombone quartet.

Despite the vocal nature of the instrument, arranging choral works for trombones presents some difficulties, largely because so much of the composer's expressive intent resides in the word-setting, which is of course lost in transcription. Therefore great care, and every possible notation, have been used to attempt to retain the details of phrasing and emphasis which the text naturally imparts to the music.

This series is edited by Joseph Harris and Matthew Knight. 

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