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.

Tudor Partbooks: The Manuscript Legacies of John Sadler, John Baldwin and their Antecedents

After a busy summer writing up my music and myth project and doing the final proofing and indexing for my book on music at the Elizabethan court, I have recently started a new job as the research assistant for the Tudor Partbooks project.


This three-year, AHRC-funded project led by Magnus Williamson and Julia Craig-McFeely aims to digitize all the extant manuscripts of Tudor polyphonic music c.1510-1580 preserved in partbook format (where each vocal part is written in a separate book). These will be made publicly available via the DIAMM website.

Two key exemplars of this repertory – the Sadler and Baldwin partbooks – will also be restored and reconstructed. The Sadler partbooks are badly corroded by the acidic ink used in their copying, leaving them extremely fragile and partially illegible. A process of digital reconstruction will restore these manuscripts to a readable state, allowing their music to be accessed and performed again. (For a video of this process, see here)

The Baldwin partbooks require a different process of restoration. This is a set with one book missing (the tenor), rendering all their music incomplete.While some of the music can be found in other sources, about sixty pieces are found nowhere else. A process of collaborative reconstruction drawing on the expertise of both scholars and performers will create a plausible version of the missing parts, allowing these works to be performed and developing a greater stylistic understanding of the repertory in the process.


The research team will also be undertaking a detailed scholarly investigation of these sources, looking for connections in how they were copied, their notational styles and practices, their format, their contents,and the contexts in which they were written and used. In particular, although these partbooks post-date the Reformation, they are the dominant sources for much English church music from earlier in the century. We’ll be looking at the extent to which these sources preserve pre-Reformation practices, or make adaptations to suit later (and non-liturgical) use.

We’ll be making the results of this project available via the DIAMM website, through publishing restored facsimile editions of the Sadler and Baldwin partbooks, and through academic articles and publications. Look out also for our series of reconstruction workshops, study days, and public events (including concerts and exhibitions) throughout the project. The first of these take place in March 2015 (more details at www.facebook.com/tudorpartbooks/events):

  • Friday 6th March, 2pm: Workshop: Editing the Baldwin Partbooks
    Music Faculty, The University of Oxford.
  • Saturday 7th March, 7:30pm: In the Midst of Life: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks – a concert by Contrapunctus, directed by Owen Rees.
    The Queen’s College, Oxford

The project website is still a work in progress, but in the meantime you can still follow our research either via Twitter (@TudorPartbooks) or at http://www.facebook.com/tudorpartbooks

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.

Study Day on 14th May: Crisis, Creativity and the Self, 1550-1700

The seventeenth century is often presented as a time of crisis and profound change across Europe. These include political crises such as the Civil War and Restoration; economic crises; continued religious tensions between Protestants, Catholics and other dissenting groups; profound intellectual changes such as the new experimental philosophy, the re-evaluation of the status of Classical knowledge, and a new awareness of individual subjectivity. These social and cultural developments also had an impact on the arts.

On 15th May an interdisciplinary study day is being convened in London by Stephen Rose to explore this idea of crisis in relation to notions of creativity and self. There’s a key-note by John Butt, as well as papers (including my own) placing music alongside drama, literature, science and religion. Issues for discussion include:

  • how  notions of creativity and the self were reshaped by the changing religious, political and intellectual climate
  • how subjectivity was performed in music, on the stage, and in the church
  • how notions of innovation and creative adaptation changed

A full timetable and details of how to book are included below.

Continue reading