Five Great Albums to Start an Early English Music Journey

It’s been just over 20 years since I first became hooked on early English choral music through singing Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus in my high school chamber choir.  I talk about that piece a lot – it sums up for me this struggle of humanity; how much do you conform vs being true to yourself. Byrd was a Catholic living under a Protestant Queen, and he wrote music to celebrate illegal masses. His music reflects this internal angst. At least it does for me.

The music of the English renaissance is still exciting, alive, and vibrant.  The Church was going through so much change in such a short period of time, and the composers and musicians had to adjust to constantly changing religious services, rules about what language music had to be written in, and upheaval in the monarchy with four monarchs in a twelve year period.

It is still moving, and still demands that we listen and discover new pieces both of the music and of ourselves when we listen to it. But where do we begin? Here are five great albums – some older and some newer – which I recommend as a great starting point for those who are new to early English choral music.

The King’s Singers
English Renaissance
https://open.spotify.com/album/6Bu1mNNkzBm6iw5GL9whcu

This album came out nearly 20 years ago, but it’s still a go-to.  It focuses on Byrd and Tallis, which is a bummer if you’re someone else, but it’s a great introduction to this music by the two giants of the age.

 

Tudor Age Music
With a variety of musicians and consorts
https://open.spotify.com/album/7eVwvX4hzEnm55HZneUqg9

This album doesn’t focus on the sacred, but on more secular music including madrigals, which reached their height of popularity later in Elizabeth’s reign.  It provides light listening, and an introduction to another side of early music.

Stile Antico
The Phoenix Rising
https://open.spotify.com/album/0FnjBRi4DFivfj8sh2hZDF

Stile Antico is a newer consort, and this album celebrates Tudor church music.  They are a young group, and their interpretations are vibrant and alive.  The music is exciting, and fills me with joy when I hear it.

From Tallis to Byrd
Clare College Chapel Choir
https://open.spotify.com/album/18qylrrEq83GTiXDMjeU7m

This album has a range of Tudor choral music from various composers, and I like the variety. There are some of the big giants – If Ye Love Me, for example, you will have heard on other albums here (it’s a number one hit of the early 1550’s) but there are also some lesser-known gems.

English Madrigals and Songs
Oxford Camerata
https://open.spotify.com/album/0TGaY26vPpRsiIxefAoeiw

Another older album – 20 years old – but worth listening to and saving because of the variety of secular pieces.  A wonderful way to complement the sacred music.  Imagine you’ve spent Sunday morning at a chapel listening to the church music, and then go out into the meadow on a spring day for a party, and sing these madrigals and songs.

So there you go – five albums guaranteed to whet your appetite for more Tudor music.

What did you think?  What would you have added in?  Which pieces do you love?  I’d love to know!

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