Phantasm's latest release, William Byrd: Complete Consort Music has been chosen as BBC Music Magazine's Disc of the Month! Writer Rebecca Franks had a chance to talk with the founder of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus about the varied and surprising world of Byrd. (The interview is below.) Additionaly, you can hear excerpts and a discussion of Phantasm's latest recording on the BBC Music Magazine podcast, available free on iTunes or at www.classical-music.com. Congratulations Phantasm!
What inspired you to record Byrd's complete consort music?
Byrd has been very close to our hearts since the formation of Phantasm back in 1994. We'd done a lot of it before in the 1990s but some of it we couldn't make sense of then. For example there are some hymn settings that look like juvenilia or trivia, but in fact we hadn't understood the enormous spiritual content of these pieces. Then we started making editions without barlines, which was how the music was performed originally, and you start to phrase in a completely different way.
Can you give us a sense of the range and scope of these works?
There is a huge emotional and aesthetic range. The big issue for a composer of this period is trying to figure out how to write instrumental music that's less dependent on words. In a way these composers, and Byrd chief among them, were figuring out what it means to have imagination. They're writing in a time where there's no tradition and there was freedom to draw on all aspects of human experience. What I love in these pieces is that there's a very high style, and suddenly there's a popular ballad about, say, someone being seasick. You just don't expect it. When ‘Greensleeves' turns up in this polyphonic texture for six viols, it's a moment for jubilation.
How did you come up with the programme?
That was an interesting task. The music very oddly came to literally just one second short of the limit for a CD - 79 minutes and 59 seconds - so I had to be clever about organisation. I thought I could create a sort of Byrd symphony, moving in and out of genres. And I wanted to create links that would show the day in the life of an Elizabethan, from attending an Office in the middle of the night, to an early morning Lauds, to going out to face the street world, doing some work, then doing some creative work. We move in and out of different aspects of a composer's experience.