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The Marian Consort

Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?

The Marian Consort, Rory McCleery artistic director

It was hard being a composer of church music in Tudor England. Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1534 swept away centuries of devotional practice. English replaced Latin in the liturgy and ‘florid’ polyphony gave way to plainer styles. Edward VI went even further, and then Mary’s brief five-year reign swung the pendulum back again. Everyone must have breathed a sigh of relief when Elizabeth arrived in 1558. Life became easier. English and Latin coexisted and music stayed out of the political limelight. But as threats to the crown became increasingly real, Catholics ran serious risks if they failed to conform.

Well-established texts could be used to signal a composer’s real views to those in the know, without seeming treasonous on the surface. Jeremiah’s Lamentations over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish exile in Babylon were recognised metaphors for a Catholic’s life in England.. The other Latin motets here, in similarly describing affliction and asking God for relief, would have spoken to the same audience. Potentially even more dangerous ― and perhaps possible only because of his royal protection ― was Byrd’s ‘Why do I use my paper, ink and pen’, a poem commemorating the gruesome death of the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion and appearing in print only a year after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

Further background to clandestine Catholic music in Elizabethan England can be found in this article by Rory McCleery.

Thomas Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah I; Salvator mundi  

Nathaniel Giles: Tibi soli peccavi 

William Byrd: Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?; Domine praestolamur;   Circumdederunt me

Philip van Wilder: Aspice Domine   

Robert Parsons: Ave Maria   

Clemens non Papa: Job tonso capite   

Osbert Parsley: Lamentations of Jeremiah   

Programme Notes (also available at the concert free of charge)


The Marian Consort perform across the UK, Europe and North America. Led by founder and director, Rory McCleery, the group is a flexible, intimate ensemble, allowing clarity of texture and subtlety of interpretation that illuminates the music for performer and audience alike. They feature regularly on BBC Radio 3, and have released twelve recordings to critical acclaim, praised for “precision and pellucid textures” (The Times). We’ve seen them at the Festival twice before ― in 2013 and again in 2015.

“The performances are models of discretion and musical taste, every texture clear, every phrase beautifully shaped” The Guardian 

“The delivery is clean, unadorned, unaccompanied and undemonstrative, drawing the listener in by quiet persuasion and musical intelligence of the highest order” The Observer



Sun 9 Oct 2022 3.00pm

Little Missenden Church

£25, £18, £10

The Marian Consort sing 'Miserere Mei' by William Byrd