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Choral style and identity in recordings of William Byrd

Choral style and identity in recordings of William Byrd
Choral style and identity in recordings of William Byrd
William Byrd’s choral music has appeared on record since the early 1920s and still has great currency today. His works are closely associated with the ‘English choral tradition’ and are frequently recorded by cathedral and collegiate choirs, yet they are equally popular among vocal ensembles operating independently of such institutional ties. The differing identities of these choirs, and the narratives that surround them, are encapsulated on recordings of Byrd’s music.

This thesis establishes key distinctions in the practice, circumstance and purpose of ‘institutional’ and ‘independent’ choirs and examines how those differences manifest as different styles on record. Concentrating specifically on recordings of Byrd’s Ave verum corpus and ‘Agnus Dei’ from the Mass for Four Voices, this thesis presents evidence from extensive close listening analysis, enriched with empirical detail generated by the computational tool Sonic Visualiser. This investigation is aligned with the wider field of recorded performance research, engaging particularly with debates concerning stylistic homogenisation across the twentieth century. While evidence of greater uniformity and expressive subtlety on record is confirmed, an in-depth focus on choral performance, in contrast to the more usual analysis of instrumental recordings, offers a more complex perspective. Recordings by independent ensembles demonstrate more variety and notable stylistic development across the recorded era, while recordings of institutional choirs are much more similar, having reached a stylistic optimum earlier in the twentieth century.

This thesis maps these findings against wider contextual narratives, arguing that similarity among institutional recordings derives from the choirs’ shared identity of religious function, and that similarity is conveniently subsumed into a powerful rhetoric of tradition and stability. Independent ensembles are more associated with artistry and innovation, though there is a shared lineage for many UK choirs that brings notions of ‘Englishness’ and class to the fore. Finally, I argue that the identities embodied on Byrd recordings — traditional, national and spiritual — are of great value to modern consumers in the construction of their own sense of self.
Vince, Caroline
3105f327-8b34-49b9-9f2f-c5e919627cc7
Vince, Caroline
3105f327-8b34-49b9-9f2f-c5e919627cc7
Brooks, Laura
4b254837-1e36-4869-9695-17000b6c5ff9

(2016) Choral style and identity in recordings of William Byrd. University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis, 401pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

William Byrd’s choral music has appeared on record since the early 1920s and still has great currency today. His works are closely associated with the ‘English choral tradition’ and are frequently recorded by cathedral and collegiate choirs, yet they are equally popular among vocal ensembles operating independently of such institutional ties. The differing identities of these choirs, and the narratives that surround them, are encapsulated on recordings of Byrd’s music.

This thesis establishes key distinctions in the practice, circumstance and purpose of ‘institutional’ and ‘independent’ choirs and examines how those differences manifest as different styles on record. Concentrating specifically on recordings of Byrd’s Ave verum corpus and ‘Agnus Dei’ from the Mass for Four Voices, this thesis presents evidence from extensive close listening analysis, enriched with empirical detail generated by the computational tool Sonic Visualiser. This investigation is aligned with the wider field of recorded performance research, engaging particularly with debates concerning stylistic homogenisation across the twentieth century. While evidence of greater uniformity and expressive subtlety on record is confirmed, an in-depth focus on choral performance, in contrast to the more usual analysis of instrumental recordings, offers a more complex perspective. Recordings by independent ensembles demonstrate more variety and notable stylistic development across the recorded era, while recordings of institutional choirs are much more similar, having reached a stylistic optimum earlier in the twentieth century.

This thesis maps these findings against wider contextual narratives, arguing that similarity among institutional recordings derives from the choirs’ shared identity of religious function, and that similarity is conveniently subsumed into a powerful rhetoric of tradition and stability. Independent ensembles are more associated with artistry and innovation, though there is a shared lineage for many UK choirs that brings notions of ‘Englishness’ and class to the fore. Finally, I argue that the identities embodied on Byrd recordings — traditional, national and spiritual — are of great value to modern consumers in the construction of their own sense of self.

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Published date: April 2016
Organisations: University of Southampton, Music

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 395997
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/395997
PURE UUID: 744370b1-ae1e-4a98-9664-723dae55e063

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Date deposited: 06 Jul 2016 14:02
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 18:52

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Contributors

Author: Caroline Vince
Thesis advisor: Laura Brooks

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