Hugh Ashton's Ground, by William Byrd

Hugh Ashton’s Ground, by William Byrd

William Byrd (c.1540-1623) – Hugh Ashton’s Ground (also Hugh Astons Grownde)

From my concert at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, 2017.

A ground is a musical form that shares certain characteristics of Jazz, in that it features repeating harmonic cycles with continuous variation, similar to “playing over the changes” in Jazz. The harmonic “changes” of this piece are: A-, E+, F+, E+, G+ C+, E+, A+, but the fluid counterpoint and voice-leading often blur the “either/or” relationship between major and minor keys, leaning toward a more sweet and sour sound-palette. Byrd was a master of incrementally developing his variations, starting with simple, sombre statements of harmonic blocks accompanied by a bare melodic outline, progressively building to relentless, elaborate and intricate patterns.

Hugh Ashton was an innovative English Renaissance keyboard composer, who died some 20 years before Byrd was born.

In contrast, here is a different recording of me playing the same piece on the harpsichord:

This recording was made on a keyboard tuned in a “quarter-comma mean-tone” temperament, a period tuning favouring certain keys and intervals over others, in this case leading to more pure and brilliant 3rds (so long as one avoids the so-called “howling fifth” of G# – D#).

Historical note: this would have been originally played on a Virginal (a smaller, more nasal sounding predecessor of the Harpsichord).

Many thanks to for the video production.