Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink and Pen?

On Friday we enjoyed the Marian Consort performing Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink and Pen? at the Stoller Hall in Manchester.

The Marian Consort

We love the venue, the acoustics are amazing. This was our first live experience of the Marian Consort; they were fantastic, they explore powerful, heartfelt music from Renaissance England alongside songs of plea and protest from the folk tradition. 

The performance brought together so many of our interests: beautiful Renaissance music, fantastic singers and, even better, poems by, and about, Recusant poets.

The Consort sang William Byrd's incendiary setting of Henry Walpole’s ‘Why do I use my paper, ink and pen’, a poem commemorating the martyrdom of Edmund Campion, which speaks truth to power in a manner similar to early English ballads, many of which have their origins in far more ancient folk songs, stories and uprisings. Walpole was inspired by Campion’s example to become a priest and, in time, a martyr as well. 

Some years after Campion’s death, William Byrd set a few stanzas of Walpole’s poem to music. This was a rather bold move on his part; the only previous attempt to publish the poem had resulted in the torture and death of the publisher. But Byrd, because his talent had made him a favourite with the Queen, had more latitude, and made use of it.

    Why do I use my paper, ink and pen?
    And call my wits to counsel what to say?
    Such memories were made for mortal men;
    I speak of Saints whose names cannot decay.
    An Angel’s trump were fitter for to sound
    Their glorious death if such on earth were found.

William Byrd was a devout Catholic who, like his friend and mentor Thomas Tallis, made his religious convictions clear in his use of texts, a potentially dangerous strategy in Protestant Elizabethan England. 

In addition, the Consort sang Early English folk ballads including Lyke-Wake Dirge, Digger’s Song and the Cutty Wren.