Cambridge Concert - Chicago a cappella

Cambridge Concert

Program Notes

Program List

Haec Dies

William Byrd

Ave Maria

Robert Parsons

Ave Verum Corpus

William Byrd

Beati Quorum Via

Charles Villiers Stanford

Faire is the Heaven

William H. Harris


Grace Brigham (winner 2023-24 HerVoice competition)


William Byrd


Arise, Awake

Thomas Morley

The Silver Swan

Orlando Gibbons

Pastime with Good Company

Henry VIII, arr. Geoffrey Shaw

English Folk Songs

Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Turtle Dove

Just as the Tide Was Flowing

The Lover’s Ghost

from Five Flower Songs

Benjamin Britten

To Daffodils

The Evening Primrose

Ballad of Green Broom

Encore: Crossing the Bar

Rani Arbo

Notes on the Music

by John William Trotter


William Byrd

The Renaissance-era English Composer William Byrd is a fascinating historical figure as well as a masterful composer.  Though active in Protestant England under Queen Elizabeth, Byrd was a Roman Catholic, whose allegiance became increasingly important to his personal and creative life.  This meant that despite his elevated station, his position was never completely secure; at the time, Catholic worship could only take place in secret in England.

Byrd’s success at the Chapel Royal is partly due to the fact that Elizabeth, though Protestant, was a moderate.  She was also a musician herself, proficient at the keyboard, and had a fondness for the beauty of religious ritual in general.

Byrd succeeded Robert Parsons (who succeeds him in today’s concert program) as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, the largest choir of its kind in England at the time.  Along with renowned composer Tallis (whose masterpiece The Lamentations of Jeremiah Chicago a cappella will perform as part of a unique collaboration in the fall of 2024), Byrd held a monopoly for the printing of music, and of ruled manuscript paper, for 21 years.   However, the publishing industry was not what it later became, and at one point the venture nearly ruined him financially.

Today’s program touches on themes of waking and sleeping.  Haec Dies is one of Byrd’s best-known and most vigorous works, on a simple and energizing text:

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus: 

Exeltemus et laetmur in ea, 



—Psalm 118:24  

This is the day that the Lord has made:  

We will rejoice and be glad in it.  



—Translation by Andrew Major  



Robert Parsons

Unlike Byrd, whose biography is the source of much discussion and research, very little is known of Robert Parsons, even though both were associated with the Chapel Royal.  Parsons is one of several Tudor-era composers from whom we now have only a small number of choice works, likely representative of a larger body of work now lost to us.

Parsons’ Ave Maria became well-known to (and much beloved by) choirs after it was published in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems in 1978.


Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum;  

benedicta tu in mulieribus, 

et benedictus fructus ventris tui,  




—Luke 1:28 


Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you;  

you are blessed among women,  

and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  




—Translation by Andrew Major  



William Byrd

The third piece on today’s program is Ave verum corpus, again by William Byrd.


Ave, verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine:  

vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine: 


cuius latus perforatum unda fluxit et sanguine: 

esto nobis praegustatum, in mortis examine. 

O dulcis, o pie, O Jesu, Fili Mariae.  

Miserere mei. Amen.   


—14th century Eucharistic hymn   


Hail true body, born of the Virgin Mary; 

You, who truly suffered and who was sacrificed on the cross for the sake of man,  

from whose pierced side flowed water and blood.  

Be a foretaste for us in the trial of death.  

O sweet, O gentle, O Jesu, son of Mary,  

Have mercy on me. Amen.  


—Translation by Andrew Major  



Charles Villiers Stanford

Charles Villiers Stanford’s Three Latin Motets, Op. 38, have become a staple of Anglican church music.  Written for six parts, Beati quorum via is perhaps the best-known and best-loved. It combines a sensation of freshness and beauty with an elusive quality of inevitability and mastery.

Stanford was for many years the head of music at Trinity College, Cambridge.  He wrote this piece for his successor Alan Gray, and the Trinity College Chapel Choir, and it fits perfectly the legendary acoustic of that chapel.


William H. Harris

Faire is the Heaven is the title not only of a piece, but also of an entire album by the Cambridge Singers, an ensemble founded and conducted by John Rutter, the incomparable entrepreneur, prolific composer, arranger, and editor, and all-around force of nature in English choral music.  Now in his late seventies, Rutter’s activity continues unabated at his home and home office by the river in St. Ives, where he lives with his American-born wife near Cambridge.

The text is very old, complete with now-archaic spellings, and depicts the blessed peace and fulfillment of heaven:

Faire is the heaven where happy soules have place
In full enjoyment of felicitie;
Whence they do still behold the glorious face
Of the Divine, Eternall Majestie;

Yet farre more faire be those bright Cherubins
Which all with golden wings are overdight.
And those eternall burning Seraphins
Which from their faces dart out fiery light;

Yet fairer than they both and much more bright
Be the Angels and Archangels
Which attend on God’s owne person without rest or end.

These then in faire each other farre excelling
As to the Highest they approach more neare,
Yet is that Highest farre beyond all telling

Fairer than all the rest which there appeare

Though all their beauties joynd together were;
How then can mortal tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endlesse perfectnesse?



Grace Brigham

Grace is a winner of the third year of our HerVoice initiative, the global competition and mentorship project for emerging women composers of a cappella choral music.

She writes:  

Sundowning recounts the experience of observing a loved one suffer from dementia. Medical professionals use the term “sundowning” to refer to certain behaviors people with dementia often exhibit during the late afternoon and early evening. These behaviors can include increased confusion, agitation, anxiety, aggression, and restlessness.  

I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant in a dementia unit during college. During that time, I learned how difficult and draining it is watching someone you love change so much, knowing that there is nothing you can do to stop it. A few years later, my grandfather developed dementia. Towards the end of his life, I helped care for him as the only one in my family trained to do so. I think that dementia is something most people have dealt with in some way, but we tend not to talk about how heartbreaking it is to watch someone you know and love so deeply slowly decline. This is what inspired me to partner with my friend Shae, who also has her own personal experience with dementia, and create this piece of music.  


your hand in mine clenching 

breathe in, breathe out 

as we recollect back to the now 


time stand still each time I grow 

but for you it ebbs and flows  

and as your eyes flutter at me 

my heart murmurs unevenly;  



in and out as the sun descends  

you trail along with her;  

i will guide you back  


we pulse in sync 

until the morrow robs you again 

of the light in your eyes,  

and the hope in mine.  


—text by Shae Lime (printed with permission from author) 



William Byrd

Continuing our theme of waking and sleeping, Byrd’s Vigilate closes our first half.


Vigilate, nescitis enim 

quando dominus domus veniat,  

sero, an media nocte,  

an galli cantu, an mane.  

Vigilate ergo, ne cum venerit repente.  

inveniat vos dormientes.  

Quod autem dico vobis, omnibus dico: vigilate.   



—Mark 13:35-37 



Be vigilant, for you do not know  

when the Lord of the house will come,  

whether late, at the dead of night,  

or at the cock’s crow, at dawn.  

Be vigilant, therefore, lest he come suddenly 

and find you sleeping.  

What I say to you, I say to all: be vigilant.  



—Translated by Andrew Major   



Thomas Morley

The Triumphs of Oriana is a quintessentially English musical collection: it contains 25 madrigals by twenty-three composers (Morley wrote two), assembled to honor Queen Elizabeth I.  Each madrigal ends with the same rhyming couplet:

Then sang the shepherd and nymphs of Diana: long live fair Oriana. 

The name “Oriana” was often used to refer to Queen Elizabeth I, who never married, and was frequently the subject of poems in the Courtly Love tradition.

This madrigal, like many others, feature a mix of charm and silliness, as well as light-hearted word painting.

Arise, awake, awake
You silly shepherds sleeping;
Devise some honour for her sake
By mirth to banish weeping
See where she comes, lo where
In gaudy green arraying
A pince of beauty rich and rare
Pretends to go a-maying
You stately nymphs draw near
And strew your paths with roses;
In you her trust reposes
Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana:
Long live fair Oriana


Orlando Gibbons

The Silver Swan may be one of the most most pithy examples of social commentary in choral music. In the course of a mere 90 seconds, it comments on the brevity of life, the vanity of foolish speech, and the uniqueness of music itself. The anonymous poem addresses the legend that swans, though silent throughout their lives, sing only in their last moments.

The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
“Farewell, all joys; Oh death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”


Henry VIII, arr. Geoffrey Shaw

The melody to Pastime with Good Company is straight from the pen of King Henry VIII, an avid musician and founder of Trinity College, Cambridge – and also the subject of a nearly unending stream of fascinated televised historical dramas.  Though his court was rich in music, dance, and entertainment, the rule of Henry VIII is a cautionary tale of the dangers of tyranny (not least to his own wives – a fact memorialized in carvings on the wooden panels of Trinity College Chapel itself).

Many arrangers have taken up this melody for their own compositions.  This one is from American composer Kirby Shaw, and was recently sung by Trinity College from punts (flat-bottomed scows guided along the river by tourists and students alike) on the river Cam.


Pastime with good company  

I love and shall until I die;  

Grudge who list, but none deny,  

So God be pleased this life will I.  

For my pastance, hunt, sing, and dance; 

My heart is set, all goodly sport for my comfort,  

Who shall me let?  


Youth will needs have dalliance,  

of good or ill, some pastance;  

Company me thinketh the best,  

All thoughts and fantasies to digest.  

For idleness is chief mistress of vices all,  

Then who can say, but pass the day  

Is best of all?  


Company with honesty is virtue;  

And vice to flee.  

Company is good or ill,  

But ev’ry man hath his free will.  

The I sue, the worst eschew;  

My mind shall be, virtue to use,  

Vice to refuse, I shall use me.  


—Henry VIII (Choral Public Domain Library)  



Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams was a towering figure English Choral Music.  He was dedicated to expressing the life of the community in music, and was a particular champion of folk music, as these arrangements demonstrate.  His thoughts on the role of music in the life of the community survive in these memorable quotes, among others:

“the art of music above all the other arts is the expression of a soul of a nation”

“Have we not all about us forms of a musical expression which we can take and purify and raise to the level of great art?”

“There [is] a feeling of recognition, as of meeting an old friend, which comes to us all in the face of great artistic experiences. I had the same experience when I first heard an English folksong, when I first saw Michelangelo’s Day and Night, when I suddenly came upon Stonehenge or had my first sight of New York City – the intuition that I had been there already.”

“but in the next world I shan’t be doing music, with all its striving and disappointments.  I shall be being it.”


Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten’s Five Flower Songs (of which we will perform three on this program) are miniature masterpieces.  Though each mentions flowers in the lyrics, that is where the similarities end. As a set, they address themes both profound and frivolous. 

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