Exploring Henrician Musical Sources at the British Library

TudorPartbooksFacultyWebsite.qxp_Layout 4 copyOn 12 May a multidisciplinary group of scholars gather to explore and re-examine some the British Library‘s musical partbooks from the reign of Henry VIII as part of the Tudor Partbooks project. Experts introduced the sources and initiated discussion, while manuscripts were available for participants to have a look at.

TudorPartbooks Study Day at the British Library

David Skinner started the day with an introduction to Harley 1709, a single surviving partbook from a set containing 26 votive antiphons. Little is known about the origins of the book, which is normally dated to the mid-1520s, though the otherwise unknown composer Thomas Hyllary might provide a clue. Tudor Partbooks PhD student Daisy Gibbs has found records of a Thomas Hyllary from the West Country in the right period. Although the composers of the majority of the music – including Nicholas Ludford, Robert Fayrfax, Richard Davy and William Cornysh- and the manuscript’s strapwork initials suggest a date of c.1515-20, the inclusion of Thomas Tallis’s Salve intemerata presents something of a puzzle and suggests a slightly later dating for the manuscript. Tallis’s birthdate is usually estimated to be c.1505 and Salve intemerata is not his earliest known work (it is more mature than, for example, his Ave Dei patris).

Much discussion followed surrounding Tallis’s biography and career. A birthdate of 1505 would make him surprisingly young to have composed such an accomplished piece as Salve intemerata. Was he something of a child prodigy or does our estimated birthdate Gb-Lbl: Harley1709need revising (making him even older at his known death date in 1585)? Roger Bowers gave an extempore overview of the first known‌record of Tallis’s life in the Dover Priory Account books in 1530/1 suggesting that his role playing the organ and running a choir was a substantial one, not just a job for a talented teenager. This would support a birthdate of c.1500-1505. Further discussion centered around why the music was copied into partbooks (one voice per part) rather than a single large choirbook as was still common at this date, and the extent to which these copies were intended for performance use or were library copies for singers to learn or copy their own parts from.

‌After lunch John Harper turned our attention to Royal Appendix 45-48, a set of partbooks and an organ book from c.1525 containing Nicholas Ludford’s seven Lady Masses. He began with an overview of the liturgical music required to provide the Lady Mass throughout the year and about Ludford’s place of employment St Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster (with valuable contributions from the St Stephen’s Chapel Project). However, the books’ leather bindings stamped with the arms of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and their appearance in an inventory of the royal library in 1542 (5 years before the dissolution of St Stephen’s Chapel in 1547) open up the  possibility that the manuscript may have been a gift to the royal family or else had a courtly function. Harper suggest potential uses in the Queen’s Chapel, perhaps curtailed by the rise of Anne Boleyn in 1533, explaining the unused appearance of the books and their storage in the royal library by 1542. Another alternative was the King’s closet where he held his private devotions, perhaps performed by Philip van Wilder and the Privy Chamber Singers. Yet more possibilities were that the books could have been used by a very small number of singers when the court went on progress, or even by a choir in the household of Princess Mary.

‌In the final session of the day John Milsom introduced us to the remains of the earliest English printed set of partbooks, known as the Twenty Songs (1530). The one surviving partbook contains a mixture of love songs, Marian devotional songs, textless pieces and DSCI0139_cropsome more surprising items including some lewd songs and others in the voice of prostitutes. Our insight into the printing method was heightened by Peter Blayney whose model of a Tudor printing press helped us to understand the process by which these books would have been made. Several mysteries surround these books. Firstly, they are printed in using the expensive double impression method (where the staves were printed first, and then the music printed over the top), even though the more efficient single impression methods had already been in use in England on single sheet music publication since the 1520s. Secondly, who was the printer and where did they get their music type from? The music type may have been of German origin as it contains natural symbols that were not typically used in English music notation. The highly accurate music type-setting suggest that it was set by a musician and probably an Englishman (due to the different continental and English conventions for the placement of dots after notes).‌The publisher was possibly John Heywood who had links to the Rastall family whose type was used for the text. Finally, how do we explain both the huge expense outlaid in casting a music fount which was used in only one extant book, and the long gap between this publication and the English printed polyphonic music books in the 1570s?  As only one in five printed books from this period survives complete, could this high attrition rate be masking the existence of both earlier and later printed polyphonic music books in early Tudor England?

It is difficult to capture to the range of discussion that took place throughout the day both formally during the session and informally as we circulated and viewed the various manuscripts and printed books. Inevitably these discussions raised as many questions as they answered, but the study day has opened up many new avenues for consideration and further research. The next Tudor Partbooks study day will be held at Christ Church, Oxford, on 19 November and will focus upon the interaction of manuscript and printed music as exemplified by the Baldwin partbooks, GB-Och: Mus. 979-983.

(with thanks to Daisy Gibbs for her comments and suggestions!)


Crisis, Creativity and the Self, 1550-1700: A Review

Musicologists and literary historians came together to discuss changing concepts of creativity and the self in the turbulent political, economic, social, and intellectual times of the seventeenth century

Last Tuesday, 14 May, around 35 musicologists and literary scholars met at Senate House in London to explore seventeenth-century notions of creativity and the self in an event supported by the Humanities and Arts Research Centre at Royal Holloway (see previous post)

Convenor, Stephen Rose, opened the study day with an overview of how this period is regarded as both a time of crisis and the origin of many concepts considered central to modernity. Significant changes in climate, known as the ‘little ice age’, led to successive harvest failure, famine, disease and death. Political unrest spread through Europe – exemplified in the English Civil War – and was symptomatic of a wider crisis of authority that encompassed not only governance of the state, but the continued challenging of religious authority. As the centrality of Court and an all-encompassing Church dissolved, new ways of affirming the place of the individual in the wider world had to be found and many regard this as the time when a new, individualised subjectivity emerged. In addition, intellectual challenges saw the primacy of Classical Antiquity and acceptance of Ancient Wisdom undermined. Instead new philosophical methods relying on experiment and observation promised fresh insights into the natural world. With these new approaches to knowledge came debates about the relative natures of truth and falsehood, subjectivity and objectivity, invention and truth across the philosophical and literary spheres.

Matthew_Locke_by_James_CaldwallMany of these issues emerged as threads between the day’s various papers. Matthew Laube began with a paper illustrating the role of music performance in fashioning confessional identities in Heidelburg c.1600. Religious identity recurred as a theme when Alan Howard described the unlikely friendship between the Catholic, royalist composer, Matthew Locke, and the parliamentarian soldier and amateur musician, Silas Locke, a friendship that was fostered in music meetings and the exchange of pieces. Later Michael Lee’s paper touched on issues of national identity as he explored Dennis and Eccles’ processes of adaptation in Rinaldo and Armida (1698) as they sought to transform the earlier models of Tasso, Quinault and Lully into a means of projecting a new English, heroic identity and to improve the role of music in contemporary dramatick opera.

Katie Bank’s paper on English madrigals and consort songs raised the issue of veracity. Uniting the emerging empiricism with Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat's A History of the Royal Society (1667)concerns over notions of truth in travel-writing and poetry, she presented music as simultaneously able to evoke wonder and portray convincing representations of the self. Similarly my own paper explored how members of the Royal Society interpreted the veracity of Classical mythology and the claims of Ancient music’s exceptionality. Attempts by some Fellows to defend Modern music led them to challenge the centrality of the passions and musical rhetoric that had underpinned musical thought throughout the seventeenth century.

Portrait of Nell GwynnThe two themes of identity and truth merged in Elaine McGirr’s discussion of celebrity actors, Nell Gwynn, Thomas Betterton and Colley Cibber. For each of these actors, fame depended on a slippage between their on-stage and off-stage roles, real-life events and fictitious anecdotes, creating the illusion of knowing the actor’s ‘true’ person that is characteristic of modern celebrity.

The richness of John Butt’s keynote lecture can hardly be captured in this short summary, but here are a few of his ideas which particularly struck me. Taking the notion of individualised subjectivity as a defining characteristic of modernity he showed how the arias of the St Matthew passion serve to evoke the individual subjectivities of these reflectors on the unfolding Biblical events, who speak not to the historical persons but to the listeners. Furthermore, he suggested another characteristic of modernity – time consciousness and the growing importance of the linear progression of time – can be seen between the different temporal levels of the active recitatives and seeming pause of time in the arias, as well as in Bach’s ‘staging of recollection’: enhancing the listeners’ awareness of time as they are made aware of their retention of prior motifs as these are reused in later movements, making connections between past and present action.

Listening became a key theme in the final round-table discussion of the day as ideas were sought on how we might aim to better understand the early modern listener. Suggestions included exploring the interaction of music and spectacle, investigating the technology and instruments behind such performances, trying to better understand the responses of listener to individual performances, and considering the power of the audience on shaping musical and theatrical development.

If my summary of the day’s events has sparked your interest, you’ll be pleased to hear that these papers were recorded and have been released as a podcast here.