Tudor Partbooks: How You Could Get Involved!

Are you into early music, Renaissance manuscripts or using Photoshop to improve digital images?  If any of theme applies to you, then you might enjoy getting involved with two of Tudor Partbooks’s most exciting projects to reconstruct Tudor music manuscripts.

1) A digital reconstruction of John Sadler’s music partbooks

The first of these opportunities concerns the reconstruction of the Sadler Partbooks, which I’ve blogged a little about previously. The Elizabethan music-lover John Sadler copied a set of partbooks using ink that was too acidic. Over the centuries this acidic ink has burned through the paper leaving his music books  difficult to read in many places (images of the Sadler partbooks are freely available on the DIAMM website) . Here’s a brief introduction:

We have c.600 images in need of restoration, which we estimate will take a couple of thousand hours to complete. So we’re looking to recruit a large team of volunteers who would like to learn the process of digital reconstruction and have a go at restoring some of these manuscript pages. No previous experience is necessary as I’ve created a series of videos to teach the few basic techniques that are needed. These also explain the aesthetics of the reconstruction process: how to we decide what to to remove or leave in, and how do we try to maintain the look of a 400-year-old manuscript?

This first video is an introduction to some basic Photoshop tools and the settings you’ll need to enable for digital reconstruction. (The videos currently show the process via Adobe Photoshop CS6, however, the same digital reconstruction techniques are possible with Adobe Photoshop Elements).

Now you’re ready to have a go at the technique of cloning:

So once you’ve mastered the cloning technique, the next step is to learn how to judge what to clone out and what to leave in:

Finally, we want to make sure that the end results of our restoration leave the manuscript looking like a 400-year-old manuscript, just one without the burn-through from the acidic ink. This final video explains how to achieve this effect:

Now you’re ready to have a go! Email Julia to request your first image, along with any questions you might still have.

2) A polyphonic reconstruction of John Baldwin’s lost tenor book

mus_979_34_crop_coloursJohn Baldwin’s partbooks are a vital source of Tudor polyphonic music both from the Elizabethan period when Baldwin was copying, and from earlier, pre-Reformation repertories.  Unfortunately the tenor book has been lost rendering all its music incomplete. We’re creating a facsimile of Baldwin’s partbooks using high quality images provided by Christ Church library, but if people are going to be able to perform from Baldwin’s notation again we’re going to need to reconstruct the missing tenor book. Sometimes we can find the tenor part from another manuscript, but in around 60 cases we’re going to have to use the surviving parts and our knowledge of the composers’ styles to reconstruct the missing tenor voice.‌


Before we can start each piece, we need have to transcribe the music from the remaining partbooks. These transcriptions are then used for making the reconstructed tenor parts. We’re experimenting with a collaborative process of reconstructing the missing voice that has included performers, students alongside academic specialists. As part of this we’ve held some reconstruction workshop weekends (you can see Storifys of previous workshops in Oxford and Cambridge, while the next is forthcoming in Newcastle in March).

So if you read sixteenth-century music notation and/or are good with Sibelius music software there are two ways that you could help in reconstructing Baldwin’s partbooks: firstly, by making transcriptions and, secondly, by participating in polyphonic reconstruction. If you’d like to volunteer, or would like guidelines on the Tudor Partbooks house style, just email Magnus.

We look forward to welcoming you into our team of volunteers and hope you might enjoy participating in these ground-breaking collaborative projects to reconstruction Tudor music manuscripts.