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William Byrd
"Have mercy upon me O God"

In this archive performance recorded in 1927, Cyril Rootham conducts the choir of St John's College, Cambridge. This brief but historic performance covers the first part of William Byrd's "Have mercy upon me O God".

This work

"Have mercy upon me O God" employs alternating phrases with verse and full scoring; the work also circulated as a church anthem. The tempo is much slower than a conductor would take it today, but that reflects the approach which was typical at the time of the recording.

About this recording

It is clear that CBR was keen to promote the use of technology in capturing musical performances - something which we take totally for granted today.

We know that this is the first recording of the choir of St John's College, Cambridge. The recording was made in 1927 and Cyril Rootham was conducting the choir, accompanied by an unnamed string quartet. Beyond that, there are few details available: we do know that this was an early electrical recording made by HMV. Here we have only provided score pages up to bar 39, but you can hear the complete 1927 session in a restored version (our thanks to Warner Music Group).

The text of the newspaper article reads:

College Chapel Records
"H.M.V." Records of St. John's College Choir were taken on Monday. A microphone in the Chapel is connected by wire with the motor-van shown in the picture, where the actual records were made.

HMV recording van at St John's in 1927

HMV Recording Van outside St John's College in 1927