Merritts Hill Music

Merritts Hill Music

The Battell

William Byrd

Category: Brass Band

Duration: 12' 00"

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1. The souldiers sommons

2. The marche of footemen

3. The marche of horsmen

4. The trumpetts

5. The Irishe marche

6. The bagpipe and the drone

7. The flute and the droome

8. The marche to the fighte

9. The retreat

and then if you please

10. The buriing of the dead

11. The morris

12. Ye souldiers dance

William Byrd’s set of descriptive pieces is akin to Mussourgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” as it appears to have been inspired by a set of engravings, in this case of military action in Ireland in the 1570s. It is well known in its arrangement for large symphonic brass ensemble, but this version for brass band is entirely new.

The age in which Byrd flourished is different from ours in at least two ways. Firstly, as the modern notions of publishing and copyright were yet to develop, his compositions appeared as parts of various collections and it is not always obvious which belongs with which. In “My Ladye Nevell’s Booke Of Virginal Music” we find “4. The Battell” which begins (appropriately) with the Soldiers’ Summons and ends with the Retreat. The Dover edition appends three extra numbers from a manuscript source which we also include – The Burying of the Dead (not as boring as commentators unaminously assert), The Morris, and The Soldiers’ Dance, and they are included in the present arrangement as an option. However, at the end of The Retreat is still the direction “here followeth a Galliarde for the Victory”, a satirical acknowledgement of political spin, and indeed piece No.5 is a galliard, although it doesn’t really belong with what’s gone before as it’s musically and technically more sophisticated.

Neither does No.3 “The March Before The Battell” belong with what follows. It is better known as “The Earl of Oxford’s March” after Byrd’s friend and sponsor the 17th Earl. But he was persona non grata with the Nevilles and the march was diplomatically retitled in this collection. It is not included in the present arrangement as it’s too large an overture for a set of short descriptive pieces. Besides, who is marching if the soldiers are yet to be summoned?

The second way in which Byrd’s world differed is that his customers were not anonymous professionals but courtly patrons. What he provided for their entertainment needed to be attractive without being too taxing. It is entirely possible that Queen Elizabeth herself might have had a go at these. So while The Battell is undoubtedly colourful, it is also resolutely in C major, and there is a limit to how much B flat even a dedicated audience should be exposed to. In the present arrangement each piece is in a key which is effective on its own merit and yet fits a scheme. For instance, it is unlikely that the burying-the-dead-is-boring faction have ever tried it in the sublimely spiritual key of E, as far from real-life B flat as you can go.