The Composer William Byrd: Part Two of Reason No. 37 to Believe the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Imagine setting forth to investigate whether Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was the true author of the “Shakespeare” works.  Now imagine going to Amazon.com and locating the site for an album called Shakespeare’s Music, complete with a portrait of the Bard on its cover … only to find that the first song listed is My Lord of Oxenfords Maske, a.k.a. The Earl of Oxford’s March by William Byrd (c. 1540-1623), considered the greatest composer of the English Renaissance.

It would be natural (and logical) if the best writer of that glorious age in England, who seemed to know everything about music, would have known and worked with the best composer of the same age – which, the evidence shows, is exactly what happened.

Except it didn’t happen in the way that orthodox history would have it:

*  William Byrd was past fifty when he moved from London circa 1593 to the small town of Stondon Massey, Essex, where he lived the rest of his life.  But according to tradition William Shakespere of Stratford-upon-Avon (1564-1616) was just getting started in 1593, so on that basis alone he and the great composer never even met each other.

*  Edward de Vere Lord Oxford, on the other hand, was twenty-two and in the highest of royal favor at Court in 1572, when Byrd was named a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and began work under Queen Elizabeth as organist, singer and composer.

The evidence suggests “an association between Byrd and Oxford of at least ten years,” according to Sally Mosher, a highly respected authority on the subject, in an article for the Shakespeare-Oxford Society entitled William Byrd’s “Battle” and the Earl of Oxford, available online at the SOS website.

“William Byrd and the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford were both at the Court of Elizabeth I from about 1572 on,” Mosher writes.  “Both were involved in activities that provided music for the Court; and during this period, Oxford saved Byrd from possible bankruptcy by selling a certain property to Byrd’s brother.”

The Chapel Royal consisted of some twenty-four male singers and organists who provided church music for the royal household.  They remained with the Queen as part of her entourage, which included Oxford himself, as she traveled from palace to palace.

“The likelihood is strong,” Mosher writes, “that both Oxford and the Queen would have played these pieces [on lute and virginal keyboard] by the composer whom both had patronized.”

Byrd’s piece The Earl of Oxford’s March “has been preserved in at least four versions,” she reports, and “it was clearly well-known during the period.”  As a ranking earl, Oxford had his own “tucket” or musical signature announcing his arrival at tournaments and while traveling.  The tune at the heart of The Earl of Oxford’s March “has all the earmarks of such a tucket,” according to Mosher, who adds, “In deference to [Oxford’s] dreams of martial glory perhaps, or else to provide an entertainment at Court, at some point during their close association William Byrd worked Oxford’s tucket into a musical setting that called up visions of battle.”

I urge readers to go over to YOUTUBE and see/hear the many selections of Oxford’s March.  Here is one, recorded in Sils, Switzerland (www.SynergyBrass.com) that brought me to tears of joy over the sheer beauty of setting and music bursting with grandeur:

“The Shakespeare plays are full of tuckets,” Sally Mosher observes (King Lear, Henry V, Henry VIII, et. al.).  “In Othello, when Iago hears ‘Othello’s trumpets,’ it means that he recognizes Othello by his tucket.  The brief and open-ended tune that introduces Oxford’s March has all the earmarks of this kind of semi-military identification … Oxford, a veteran of real military action [i.e., service in 1570 against the Northern Rising of Catholic earls) by the time he and Byrd met, would have known the military calls in use and could have supplied them to Byrd.”

Part Three of this Reason will be forthcoming soon.   Meanwhile, as Mosher notes, William Byrd also composed a piece of music to a poem, attributed to Oxford, entitled If Women Could be Fair [see below] — included in a collection of Byrd’s vocal works published in 1588.

And still another example of such collaboration involves My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is, a poem [see below] attributed to Oxford and published in Byrd’s Psalms, Sonnets, and Songs of Sadness and Piety (1588), described this way at Harper’s Magazine blog:

“This poem is one of the true masterpieces of the Elizabethan era, understandable on many levels: as a sanctuary of conscience, as a statement of Calvinist precepts, as a dissertation on contentment, as a praise of the powers of imagination and invention. William Byrd’s setting of the Oxford poem is one of the finest English art songs of the Elizabethan era.” 

“Of the recordings,” adds the unnamed Harper’s poster, “the performance of the inimitable Emma Kirkby, on this Fretwork CD is surely the best. Listen to William Byrd’s Fantasia No. 2 a 6 in G Minor” — and here it is:

IF WOMEN COULD BE FAIR AND YET NOT FOND,

Or that their love were firm, not fickle still,

I would not marvel that they make men bond,

By service long to purchase their good will;

But when I see how frail those creatures are,

I muse that men forget themselves so far.

 To mark the choice they make, and how they change,

How oft from Phoebus do they fly to Pan,

Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,

These gentle birds that fly from man to man;

Who would not scorn and shake them from the fist,

And let them fly, fair fools, which way they list

 Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,

To pass they time when nothing else can please,

And train them to our lure with subtle oath,

Till weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;

And then we say when we their fancy try,

To play with fools, O what a fool was I.

From the appendix of Roger Stritmatter’s

dissertation on Oxford’s Geneva Bible 

MY MIND TO ME A KINGDOM IS, 

Such perfect joy therein I find

That it excels all other bliss

That world affords or grows by kind.

Though much I want which most men have,

Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,

No force to win the victory,

No wily wit to salve a sore,

No shape to feed each gazing eye;

To none of these I yield as thrall.

For why my mind doth serve for all.

I see how plenty suffers oft,

How hasty climbers soon do fall;

I see that those that are aloft

Mishap doth threaten most of all;

They get with toil, they keep with fear.

Such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;

I seek no more than may suffice;

I press to bear no haughty sway;

Look what I lack my mind supplies;

Lo, thus I triumph like a king,

Content with that my mind doth bring.

Some have too much, yet still do crave;

I little have, and seek no more.

They are but poor, though much they have,

And I am rich with little store.

They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;

They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss;

I grudge not at another’s gain;

No worldly waves my mind can toss;

My state at one doth still remain.

I fear no foe, nor fawning friend;

I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,

Their wisdom by their rage of will,

Their treasure is their only trust;

And cloaked craft their store of skill.

But all the pleasure that I find

Is to maintain a quiet mind.

My wealth is health and perfect ease;

My conscience clear my chief defense;

I neither seek by bribes to please,

Nor by deceit to breed offense.

Thus do I live, thus will I die.

Would all did so as well as I!

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Here’s my favorite E of O March: It’s so rocking!


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