Composers Datebook®

William Byrd

Composers Datebook - July 4, 2024


It’s likely you’ll hear a good deal of American music today — and rightly so — but we’re taking a minute or two to acknowledge a special British composer’s anniversary, as today’s date marks the anniversary of the passing of William Byrd, one of England’s greatest composers, who produced both sacred and secular works that are still regularly performed today on both sides of the Atlantic.

William Byrd was born in London around 1542 — we don’t know exactly when — and died on July 4, 1623, at the age of some 80 years — a remarkably long lifespan for that time. He was also a remarkably prolific composer, a master of intricate choral counterpoint and virtuosic keyboard pieces. He was the first Englishman to write madrigals in the Italian fashion, but his chief significance lies in his many sacred works.

Byrd lived during the tumultuous period of the English Reformation, and produced works for both the Roman Catholic Church and England’s new Anglican service. Queen Elizabeth I was a great admirer of his music, so much so that she overlooked the fact that Byrd remained an unashamed Roman Catholic in Protestant England, and even granted him a royal patent related to publishing music.

Music Played in Today's Program

William Byrd (c. 1540-1623): Sanctus, from Mass for Five Voices; The Cardinall’s Musick; Andrew Carwood; Gaudeamus CD 206

On This Day


  • 1694 - French composer and organist, Louis Claude Daquin, in Paris

  • 1826 - American song composer Stephen Collins Foster, in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania

  • 1903 - Belgian composer and organist and teacher Flor Peeters, in Thielen


  • 1623 - English composer William Byrd, c. 80 (the exact date of his birth is not known) in Stondon, Essex


  • 1831 - The patriot hymn “America” (to the tune of the British patriotic song “God Save the King/Queen” with new words supplied by Samuel Francis Smith) sung by a children’s choir at a Fourth of July service at the Park Street Church in Boston. This premiere performance is commonly (but incorrectly) listed as 1832.

  • 1900 - final version of Sibelius: Symphony No. 1, in Stockholm by the Helsinki Philharmonic on tour, with Robert Kajanus conducting. An earlier version of the symphony had been premiered in Helsinki on April 26, 1899, with the same orchestra conducted by the composer.

  • 1923 - R. Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite, in London, by the band of the Royal Military School of Music

  • 1964 - Piston: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire

  • 1983 - David Amram: Honor Song for Sitting Bull for cello and orchestra, by the Long Island Philharmonic, Christopher Keene conducting, and William Da Rosa as the soloist


  • 1827 - Opening of Niblo’s Gardens, an important 19th-century American concert venue, at Broadway and Prince Street in New York City

  • 1828 - The U.S. Marine Band first performed Hail to the Chief for a living President at the ground-breaking ceremony for the excavation of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal attended by President John Quincy Adams

  • 1986 - Amid fireworks and celebration, the Marine Band performed in New York City for the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, recreating the band’s performance under John Philip Sousa for the original dedication ceremonies 100 years earlier

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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