25 May 2021
By Ellie Palmer
'The Visionaries of Piano Music' will be available from 9 July
American pianist Kit Armstrong will release his debut Deutsche Grammophon recording on 9 July. 'The Visionaries of Piano Music' features works by early English composers William Byrd and John Bull.
In the notes that accompany the double-disc album, Armstrong discusses the composers’ immeasurable contribution to keyboard music, their contrasting means of expression, and his own approach to performing sixteenth-century repertoire on a modern instrument.
The pianist discovered Byrd and Bull as a child, and has returned to their music many times since, adding their works to his recital programmes and crowning his Yellow Label recording sessions with an all-Byrd-and-Bull concert for DG Stage last September. The works he has chosen for the album, pieces that were conceived as much more than diversions for an elite or adornments to ritual, span everything from meditative elegies and rousing marches to virtuoso variations on popular melodies and Bull’s ingenious canons.
Byrd (c1540-1623) and Bull (1562/3-1628) were both Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal in the Golden Age of Elizabeth I and her successor James I, and together helped build a repertoire of keyboard music as fine as any created since their deaths four hundred years ago. They were, however, very different characters who developed their own very distinctive musical styles. For Armstrong, that opposition is of crucial importance.
Armstrong comments, "The personalities of these two people shine through in ways that make the art form complete in itself, as they were able to make it express anything they wanted it to express.
They did not compose for the purpose of the craft, even though the craft is of exceptional quality; rather, they used craft as a means of expressing themselves. To my ears, there’s nothing more striking than the contrast between the personality of Byrd and Bull.”
He continues, "The motivation for doing this recording comes from not wanting to keep these pieces as historical artefacts. We should be thankful to two composers who, probably for the first time in our history, had a vision of instrumental music as being just as profound as anything we find in the cultural experience of humanity.
A lot of what has defined our musical culture – self-expression and self-immortalisation – is found in the keyboard music of Byrd and Bull, which contains so much from the hearts and minds of both men.”
Find out more about the new album here.