Sacred Sunday: “Agnus Dei,” William Byrd


We sang this anthem in church today, so it’s fresh on my mind – and means we are back to regularly scheduled program of Renaissance polyphony. (I promise to change it up soon, Tuners.)

Beyond this being one of the three anthems I sang at Palm Sunday service today and therefore stuck in my craw, this is a magnificent example of Byrd’s use of harmony. Each individual line is gorgeous on its own: as in Bach’s music, each line goes on its own exploration, interacting with the others but not necessarily serving the melody alone. My favorite part begins at 2:15 at the “Dona nobis pacem.” You can hear the plea echoed within each line in a different way. It wraps you up in the community of all those who came before you asking for the same thing – Lord, give us peace. And because there is such a community of prayers, it gives one the feeling that there’s a chance that the prayer will be granted. That’s a pretty nice feeling.

The choir of Christ Church, Oxford, sings this recording.


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