Motets, Inscriptions and the Praise of Music in Robert Dow’s Tudor Partbooks

In 1580s Oxford debates concerning the relative merits or vices of music were intensifying. Ex-Oxford student Stephen Gosson had attacked music in his School of Abuse (1579) encouraging his readers to eschew practical music and look instead to the harmonious delights of heaven: ‘If you will be good scholers, and profit well in the Art of Music, shut your fiddles in their cases, and look up to heaven: the order of the Spheres, the unfallible motion of the Planets’. The newly appointed and (by his own admission) musically ignorant Lecturer in Music, Matthew Gwinne, responded in his inaugural lecture, ‘In laudem musices oratio’, (1582), exhorting his listeners to ‘show yourselves men of good will, expel music’s enemies, hold them in contempt; cherish its patrons’. Published defences soon followed with the anonymous The Praise of Music (1586) and Apologia musices (1588) by former Fellow of St John’s College, John Case.

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In the midst of this debate Robert Dow – a Fellow of Laws at All Souls College, Oxford and a teacher of penmanship – began copying a set of musical partbooks (where every voice part is copied into its own book) containing Latin motets, English anthems, consort songs and textless music. They survive today in Christ Church Library, Oxford (Mus. 979-83).

These music books (available to view online via DIAMM) were designed not merely to be functional in communicating musical notation to players, but also to be both witty and visually appealing. Each book begins with a Latin poem in praise of music by Walter Haddon, at one time President of Magdalen College, followed by Latin verse requesting that users treat his books with care and several quotations attesting to the value and joys of music. These Latin inscriptions continue throughout the motet section of the partbooks. Many of them praise particular composers, including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Robert White, William Mundy and Robert Parsons. A few promote the quality of English music, while many others cite myths and commonplaces about the benefits or nature of music.

Dow’s combination of notation and inscription presents a rare and intriguing meeting point of musical thought and practice, offering insights into the motivations and philosophies of this amateur Elizabethan musician. Whether or not Dow had a specific meaning in mind for each juxtaposition, in a culture used to emblems, allegory, and witty conceits these inscriptions would have invited users to reflect on the connections between the musical debates evoked by the quotation and the musical practice represented by the notation and its performance.

Some of the connections between the motet and its accompanying inscription are clear. William Byrd’s motet Tribulatio proxima est (first line: ‘Tribulation is very near: for there is none to help me’) is paired with a line that translates as ‘Music is the medicine of the sad mind’. The inscription draws on the commonly held belief that music was a cure for melancholy and by pairing the motet and inscription Dow raises the suggestion that singing motets of lamentation like Byrd’s could have therapeutic properties.

Other juxtapositions are more oblique. William Byrd’s O Domine adiuva me is paired with a phrase that translates as ‘everything that lives is captivated by music if it follows nature’. It resonates with sentiments expressed in many defences of music including The Praise of Music (1586), which argues: ‘daily experience doth prove unto us, that not only men but all other living creatures, are delighted with the sweet harmony and consent of music’. Although the context in The Praise of Music is musicality in the natural world, reading the inscription alongside the motet gives the phrase ‘everything that lives’ a rather different resonance. O Domine adiuva me is a motet about salvation in which the protagonist pleas with the Lord to save them from eternal death because He has died that sinners might live. The life here is eternal and in this context the living who are captivated by music might be read as those who will have salvation

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Dow’s intention to praise and justify music is clear through these and the many other inscriptions he copied (discussed more fully in the article linked to below). He made no attempt to provide balanced statements on music’s virtues or vices, and chose numerous quotations explicitly condemning music’s detractors. The stories and arguments raised by his choice of quotations are wholly conventional and influenced by the rhetoric of other contemporary encomia. Yet his justification is founded primarily on the pleasurable, moral and religious advantages of musicality, inviting reflection on the roles music might play in Christian living, honest pleasures and ultimately salvation.

Where Dow’s partbooks are most distinctive is in prompting the users of his books to consider how singing these motets might bring specific benefits. With the inscriptions interspersed throughout the books, performers would stumble across them in the course of playing, potentially prompting communal discussions of music’s effects in relation to the motets just sung. In his Plain and Easy Introduction to Music, the composer Thomas Morley would describe the motet as a ‘grave and sober’ genre of the highest art that ‘causeth most strange effects in the hearer’, drawing them to devout contemplation of God. Dow’s juxtapositions similarly suggest that one might sing these motets to achieve the beneficial effects alluded to in the inscriptions. Moreover Morley argues that such effects would be most powerfully felt by the ‘skilful auditor’ – presumably musically educated men like Dow. Engaging communally with the multimedia contents of these partbooks Dow and his co-performers could cultivate both their performance abilities and those esteemed skills of musical knowledge, judgement and reasoning, seeking ultimately to reap the benefits of the powers of music.

To read the full article published by the Early Music journal visit: https://academic.oup.com/em/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/em/cax006  (open access).

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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.‌

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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.

Tudor Partbooks: Sadler Restoration (I) – The Project

TudorPartbooksFacultyWebsite.qxp_Layout 4 copyFind out about the Tudor Partbooks project’s plan to restore the sixteenth-century musical partbooks of John Sadler and how you might get involved.

The Problem:

In c.1565-85 John Sadler, a clergyman and schoolmaster from Oundle, copied a beautiful set of five musical partbooks (GB-Ob: Mus.e.1-5) decorated with colourful inscriptions and pictures. Unfortunately his ink was too acidic, causing it to burn through the paper. This has left the music difficult to read and books so fragile that the Bodleian library is unable to let people look at them in person.

Our Aim:

We’re producing a digitally restored facsimile edition of the Sadler partbooks that will make their contents available to scholars, students and early music performers after many years of obscurity.

Above: original image provided by the Bodleian library (MS.Mus.e.1, fol.35v). Below: restored image created by the Tudor Partbooks team.

Above: original image provided by the Bodleian library (MS.Mus.e.1, fol.35v). Below: restored image created by the Tudor Partbooks team.

The Restoration Process:

We’re using the ‘Clone Stamp’ tool from Adobe Photoshop. Using this we paste clear areas of manuscript over the show-through or sharp note-heads over smudged ones. ‌This image above shows the original photograph provided by the Bodleian library above (Mus.e.1, fol.35v) with the restored image provided by the Tudor Partbooks team below.

Here’s a close up of how we work on a single section:

Sadlerextract11) The original image

Sadlerextract22) The layer with the cloned restoration

Sadlerextract33) Final result with the cloned part superimposed

It’s a time-consuming process with pages like this taking 6-8 hours (though thankfully not all are this bad!). Nevertheless we have 565 images to restore, estimated to take c.3000 hours!

As a result we’re looking for some volunteers. If you fancy having a go, email me. You’d need to be able to attend some intial training in Oxford, but after that you will be able to work remotely. Music reading ability is important but technical skills can be taught.

Look out for my next blog post on the Sadler restoration project, which will consider some of the ethical issues concerning restoration that are arising as we work.

Fins out more about the Tudor Partbooks project, its research aims and events on the website or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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!)

Tudor Partbooks: Update and Forthcoming Events

TudorPartbooksFacultyWebsite.qxp_Layout 4 copyIt’s been an exciting few months getting the Tudor Partbooks project underway (see my previous post outlining the aims of the project). We’ve received and processed nearly 12,000 digital images from the Bodleian and British Libraries, covering all the partbooks in their collections dating from the 1530s-1580s. I’ve started typesetting the facsimile editions of the remaining Baldwin partbooks and designed our website which is very nearly ready to go live. I’ve also started work on a detailed study of the so-called ‘Hamond’ partbooks –  a fascinating, if scruffy, set which may have started life in a parish church before finding their way into an Elizabethan home (more on these another time!) You can also follow the work of our PhD student, Daisy, whose started her own blog: ‘Music in Tudor England.’

The Tudor Partbooks project will also be holding an extensive series of events, which have already begun. Dr Julia Craig-McFeely led our first seminar on the digital restoration of manuscripts. If you DigitalRestorationWorkshop7-1-2015missed it, she’s repeating it on 12 February (3:30pm, Oxford Music Faculty). Entitled ‘Digital Restoration for Beginners: Is this for me and how would I get started?’, it’s an opportunity to find out what digital reconstruction entails, what can be achieved through the process, and how to get started. Register by 1 February by emailing me.

In March we’re holding the first of our workshops on editing and reconstructing the missingMus_979_34_crop_colours Baldwin partbook. Sessions on editing Tudor polyphony and completing missing parts will be led by Magnus Williamson, Owen Rees, Andrew Johnstone and John Milsom. Singers from Contrapunctus will participate on Friday afternoon, trying out editorial solutions and providing the singers’ perspective. Register for some or all of this weekend by 31 January here.

On the Saturday evening (7 March) there’s also be a concert of music from the Baldwin Partbooks, performed by Contrapunctus (Queen’s College Chapel,7:30pm, tickets available here).

More events for April, May and July are already in the planning stages (details to follow soon). In the meantime we’re starting the task of creating detailed inventories for every partbook in our image collection.