Sacred songs and a waste-paper bible

William Byrd and Thomas Tallis’s Cantiones sacrae (1575) is one of the most important musical publications of the sixteenth century. Remarkably, Byrd and Tallis, though known recusants, held the exclusive privilege to publish music under Elizabeth. These copies from York Minster Library are bound with waste paper sheets from an early large folio edition of the King James Bible. Each copy’s printed pages, its waste paper binding, and its vellum binding each represent one of three disparate moments, materially stitched together, producing a mixed temporal identity of historical and religious consequence. The Cantiones posed little doctrinal controversy at the date of their publication, but by the time of the publication of the KJV, Tallis had long since died and Byrd had begun to publish openly controversial music, most notably in his masterwork the Gradualia, a vast experiment with the Catholic liturgy, printed in 1605, hastily withdrawn in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot, and cautiously republished in 1610. Multiconfessional and multitemporal, these part-books show us how ‘Remembering the Reformation’ is necessarily an ongoing process of reconstitution. BW

William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur (London: Thomas Vautrollier, 1575).

YML: P1/1-5S.

Further reading

Peter Le Huray, Music and the Reformation in England, 1549-1660 (Cambridge, 1967).

Kerry Robin McCarthy, Liturgy and Contemplation in Byrd’s Gradualia (New York, 2007).

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