From 1588 until his death in 1608 Thomas East was the premier music printer in England, working for first William Byrd and later Thomas Morley. He printed such famous collection as Musica Transalpina (1588), William Byrd’s Psalmes, Sonets, and Songs of Sadnes and Pietie (1588) and Thomas Morley’s anthology The Triumphes of Oriana (1601) among numerous other music collections.
Yet by 1588 East had already been in the printing business for over twenty years. He worked largely as a trade printer, but also as a publisher, issuing works by John Lyly and Edmund Spenser, and a series of Spanish Romances in translation. Why East should suddenly have chosen to specialize in music printing?
A recent piece of detective work has unexpectedly added a new first chapter to East’s music printing career. It began with an attempt to date a particular kind of printed music paper that I hoped might provide some evidence useful for dating several Tudor partbooks that were copied onto this type of paper (particularly the Hamond partbooks – British Library: Add. MSS 30480-3 – pictured below).
This music paper appears in three Tudor music books or collections (British Library: Add. MS 15166 and Royal Appendix 57; Christ Church Library, Oxford: Mus 371), plus several fragments. Moreover there are a number of different ‘editions’ with either four or five staves to a page, and with six-line staves for keyboard music.
The music paper has a distinctive decorative border made up of fleurons – small pieces of decorative type that could be combined in multiple ways to create various patterns. With the growing availability of images of printed books online, it is increasingly possible to trace the use of specific printing types and designs across a wide range of publications to reveal new information about the trade.
Tracing the appearance of these different fleurons revealed that printer Henry Denham first used them in England from 1564-66. Denham is known to have printed music in the 1580s – a monophonic setting of the Lord’s Prayer in Francis Segar’s The Schoole of Vertue (1582), William Hunnis’s Seven Sobs of a Sorrowfull Soule for Sinne (1583+) and an edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1588). However, as the graph below shows, by the late 1560s these fleurons soon become very popular and were widely used throughout the 1570s. From these figures it would seem impossible to further pin down the likely origins or period of production for this music paper.
Yet among the myriad combinations of these fleurons that were possible, only seven extant publications contain examples of the same alternating pattern seen on the type of music paper pictured above, in a narrow period from 1568-1572. Moreover all but one of these examples was by two printers: Thomas East and Henry Middleton.
In the years 1567-72 East and Middleton were both newly setting up in the printing industry and were in fact working in partnership. Intriguingly this period coincides almost precisely with the years when the fleuron design of the music paper was being used in other printed works.
Peter Stallybrass has suggested that it was ‘little jobs’—single sheet publications and small booklets requiring little investment and offering quick returns—that provided the essential regular income for the printing houses and supported the production of larger works. Printing sheets of music paper may therefore have played an important role in the economic viability of the East-Middleton press in its early years.
The East-Middleton partnership dissolved in 1572, and by 1575 the privilege granted to William Byrd and Thomas Tallis gave these musicians the monopoly on printed music paper. East and Middleton would then have been unable to legally print their music paper without the permission of the monopoly holders. Byrd and Tallis had used Thomas Vautrollier as their assign for the 1575 Cantiones sacrae and he remains the most likely candidate for the particular designs of printed staves (without decorative borders) that occur in books dating from the late 1570s to the 1580s.
Following Vautrollier’s death in 1587 and Tallis’s in 1585, East acquired Vautrollier’s two music fonts and became the assign of the remaining patent holder, William Byrd, and later his successors Thomas Morley and William Barley. As well as printing music books, East also produced music paper again in this later period. This paper no longer used the fleuron border, but rather used the monogram ‘TE’ to identify his productions.
Nevertheless Thomas East did return to experimenting with fleuron borders for music staves later in his career. In 1593-4 he printed Thomas Morley’s Canzonets or Little Short Songs to Three Voyces and Madrigalls to Foure Voyces and John Mundy’s Songs and Psalmes Composed into 3, 4 and 5 Parts all with a fleuron border not only on the title-page, but also framing every page of music.
It therefore appears that Thomas East had a history of printing ruled music paper before he later printed music as the assign of William Byrd from 1588. This early experience would have given him some knowledge of the musical marketplace, which helps to explain his interest in entering the business of printing music books in the late 1580s and how he was in a position to make this venture a success despite the limited use of this aspect of the printing privilege in the preceding decade. Having successfully marketed music paper he presumably had some idea of the kinds of music books that might be of interest to such customers and the best booksellers through which to distribute them.
To read the full article with more about fleurons, Thomas East’s borders for music papers and music collections, continental models, or other example of Tudor music paper with decorative borders, see my recently published article in The Library: ‘Printed Borders for Sixteenth-Century Music Paper and the Early Career of Music Printer Thomas East’