A reflection on the Agnus Dei of Byrd’s 5-part Mass
The beauty and tranquility of the Agnus Dei in Byrd’s five-part mass is most striking. The sensual language feels almost as if one is listening in on a private conversation. Its strength lies in its simplicity and in the incredible clarity it maintains through the gradual unfolding to the magnificent climax of the piece. A fragment of Byrd’s theme was taken as the starting point for my Agnus Dei. Harmonically, the piece is built on tone clusters, which were constructed from a germ of the harmonic language of the Byrd. His very structure also influenced me; he first uses three voices; then four; and finally all five and I opted for three clear sections – first sopranos and altos, followed by tenors and basses, with the addition of soprano 1, before the whole ensemble is finally heard together for the third climactic section.
The composer Charlotte Bray has written for some of the world’s top ensembles and festivals, including the LSO, LPO, London Sinfonietta, Aldeburgh and Aix-en-Provence. In 2013, she was awarded a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. Charlotte is an Honorary Member of Birmingham Conservatoire and was named as their Alumni of the Year 2014. She was also winner of the 2014 Lili Boulanger Prize. Her debut recording, At the Speed of Stillnesson NMC Records was released last October. 2015 saw the première of Out of the Ruins, commissioned by the Royal Opera House Youth Opera Company, and Entanglement in Cheltenham Festival, commissioned by Nova Music Opera, written in collaboration with librettist Amy Rosenthal on the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.