Merritts Hill Music

Merritts Hill Music

The Battell

William Byrd

Category: 10-piece Brass

Duration: 15' 00"

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0. The Earl of Oxford's March

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 ten-piece 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 with the Soldiers’ Summons and ends with the Retreat (with a direction "now foloweth a galliarde for the victorie", a fine satire on political spin). The Dover edition appends three optional numbers which we also include – The Burying of the Dead (not as boring as commentators assert), The Morris, and The Soldiers’ Dance.

The preceding “3. The March Before The Battell” is a separate work but we include it as your audience will be expecting it. It is better known as “The Earl of Oxford’s March” after Byrd’s friend and sponsor the 17th Earl. But the Earl was persona non grata with the Nevilles and the march was diplomatically retitled in this collection. It appears here in a truncated version which must have been extremely popular as it turns up in various collections, often entitled "My Lord of Oxenford's Maske".

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 pieces. So while The Battell is undoubtedly colourful, it is also resolutely in C major. 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 those who dismiss The Buriing Of The Dead have ever tried it in the sublime key of E.


Parts for Eb horn and lower instruments in treble clef are provided.