========= fragment from the cover ==========
1. My Ladye Nevells Grownde was presumably written in about 1590 for inclusion in this collection, and occurs in no other source. The length of the ground (twenty-four bars) is unusual, and may (as Willi Apel suggests) indicate a song origin, although its rhythmic character is more clearly that of a galliard. There are six variations.
2. Qui Passe is another piece specifically designed 'for my ladye nevell' and therefore presumably dates from the time the collection was compiled. The Italian tune (or a version of its harmonies) had long been a favourite model for instrumental variations. It was originally published by Filippo Azzaiolo in his first book of Villotte alla Padoana (1557) with words beginning 'Chi passa per questa strada'. In other countries the title was corrupted to 'Que passa' and 'Kapasse', and a summary of many of these versions is given by John Ward in his commentary on the Dublin Virginal Book. Byrd's setting consists of three variations, each featuring the dancing rhythms of Italian music.
3. The Marche Before the Battell (known in other sources as The Earl of Oxford's March), together with The Galliarde for the Victorie, form a G major frame for the more programmatic sections of the battle itself, which is in C major. These pieces are also to be found elsewhere, though not in a group; the tune of the march was popular both in England and on the Continent, and in Thomas Morley's Consort Lessons (1599) it appears as My Lord of Oxenfords Maske. Alan Brown has suggested that the battle itself may represent the Irish wars, rather than the defeat of the Armada, as has always been assumed (despite the presence of horsemen); if this is true, then the Earl of Oxford's connection with the march must be a later development, since he was not connected with the Irish campaign.
4. The Battell itself (one of the most quoted and criticised examples of early programme music) is simply a form of medley graced with explanatory titles; it is clear from the manuscript that Byrd intended the sections to be played without a break. John Derricke's woodcuts in The Image of Irelande (printed in 1581) offer a vivid graphic analogy to this piece: scenes of battle, with foot and horse soldiers on the march, the English accompanied by trumpets and the Irish by bagpipes. Alan Brown has pointed out that the poem illustrated by these woodcuts was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, and Byrd seems to have been connected with the Sidney family (despite their militant Protestantism).
The preliminaries to the battle are, naturally, more varied than the fight itself. 'The Soldiers' Summons' is a pavan-like treatment of simple drum and trumpet figures so wistful that it almost disavows the activities to follow. An elementary sequence of C major chords represents 'The March of the Footmen', though 'The March of the Horsemen' (in triple time) inspires a more sophisticated canon. 'The Trumpets' seem improved by the use of the arpichordum effect. 'The Irish March' (with its miscopied drone in the first bar corrected) is a curiously soporific number which harks back to the Irish tune of Calino Custurami' and Half Hanniken, as does 'The Bagpipe and the Drone', another section associated with the Irish contingent. 'The Flute and the Drum' (in which the two registers of the virginal are contrasted) may represent the English, though no nationality is mentioned. 'The March to the Fight' consists of answering trumpet calls (and reminders of Aston's Hornpipe), increasing in speed and intensity (Byrd marks the most obvious one 'tantara tantara') until 'the battels be joyned'. While the victors are left anonymous, 'The Retreat' appears to represent the spread of panic, with a gradual accelerando marked in Byrd's own hand. (The additional pieces included in Hilda Andrews' edition at this point arc later compositions.)
5. The Galliarde for the Victorie, a sombre and low-pitched dance, is the counterpart to the preliminary march; the opening melody of the second section is also quoted in No.29, and allusions such as these undoubtedly add to the programmatic content of the piece. Similar hints occur in the final section, which includes a variant of the tune Bonny Sweet Robin. (Could this be a reference to Dudley, Earl of Leicester - a successful lieutenant of the Queen known as her 'Sweet Robin'?)
6. The Barleye Breake is another medley based on the idea of conflict, but this time within the context of a rural pastime. The 'barley-break' was a country game similar to 'British bulldog'. It is described in detail by Sir Philip Sidney in his poem 'Lamon', written about the same time as My Ladye Nevells Booke was compiled. The game was played by three couples: one pair at either end of a field, with the remaining couple in the central section known as 'hell'. The object was for the condemned couple in 'hell' to catch the others as they advanced from either end, but without being allowed to separate, although the others could let go their hands if hard pressed. Oliver Neighbour has pointed out how Byrd's musical version follows the rules of the game exactly; he arranges his pairs of tunes (each with their decorated version, of course) according to a metrical pattern - one pair of tunes in 3/2, a more bucolic pair in 6/4, and a duple pair (the first of these being Browning or The leaves be green). After the battle section, which uses trumpet effects very similar to those in The Battell itself, various individual tunes emerge, no longer linked by metre or anything else, and the game ends peacefully with a long version of The Bells of Osney (the same tune, incidentally, as appears in the spurious section of The Battell contained in Elizabeth Roger's Virginal Book, called The Burying of the Dead; the final few bars also occur as the cadence of No.26 and several other pieces).
7. A Galliards Gygge is another of the extrovert Italianatc pieces which Byrd seems to have included for the dedicatee. In this case even the basic material may well have been borrowed from an Italian source, since neither the melodic contours nor the form seem typical of Byrd's mature style. In fact it is neither a galliard nor (as far as we know) a jig. The form follows the pattern ABCB, with each section being repeated; individual sections consist of four bars with a varied repeat - section B is thus heard in eight different forms. The three basic sections probably derive from one of the Italian songs or dances as published by Azzaiolo. Registration: 2x8'.
8. The Huntes Upp (otherwise known as Pescodd Time in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book) is treated as a ground, although the length of the initial statement (sixteen bars) suggests it may simply be the bass of a traditional tune that Byrd has commandeered. (A later set of variations with the same title by Orlando Gibbons uses the basic material as a melodic rather than harmonic pattern.) Other sources of Byrd's piece give an alternative order for some of the variations, as well as adding extra material. As the sequence develops, and particularly in the middle section in triple time, more and more obvious references are made to Aston's Hornpipe, both melodic and rhythmic (especially in the ninth variation); other quotations of traditional tunes have yet to be identified. Registration: 2x8'.
9. Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La, a hexachord fantasy, may well be the earliest setting of this theme (apart from a single statement of the theme used by 'Mr Whight' [Robert White?] in Christ Church MS 371). Each entry was marked by the copyist, who used a single dot to flag the beginning of each ascending sequence and two dots for the end of each descending scale.