Music : Mathew Holmes lute books


<p style='text-align: justify;'>Dd.2.11 is the first and largest of the four <i>Mathew Holmes lute books</i>, copied probably 1588-1595. Nine music manuscripts in Cambridge University Library were shown by Ian Harwood in the 1960s to have been copied by Holmes who was Precentor and Singingman of Christ Church in Oxford from 1588 and then in Westminster Abbey in London from 1597 until his death in 1621. Four of the manuscripts, with the shelfmarks Dd.2.11, <a href='/view/MS-DD-00005-00078-00003/1'>Dd.5.78.3</a>, <a href='/view/MS-DD-00009-00033/1'>Dd.9.33</a> and <a href='/view/MS-NN-00006-00036/1'>Nn.6.36</a>, form a chronological series largely devoted to tablature for the renaissance lute. The four comprise the most extensive and important source of English lute music to survive in the world, totalling over 650 separate items, some duplicated within or between manuscripts, crammed into all available space of more than 300 folios (600 pages) in total. The manuscripts are the major source of the music of all the great English renaissance lute composers and preserve a complete cross-section of the repertoire in common use in England for the period 1580 to 1615. The other five manuscripts copied by Mathew Holmes are one for solo cittern (Dd.4.23), and four part books for the characteristic English mixed consort of lute (Dd.3.18), bass viol (Dd.5.20), recorder (Dd.5.21) and cittern (Dd.14.24), with part books for bandora and treble viol now lost.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Holmes seems to have copied the four lute books sequentially, probably with some overlap, the first two manuscripts in Oxford from the late 1580s continuing with the last two into the second decade of the seventeenth century after he moved to Westminster Abbey. It is noticeable that his handwriting is bold and clear in the first manuscript, but gradually deteriorates throughout the series, accompanied by fewer titles and with composers’ names reduced to initials, together with progressive use of abbreviated notation of rhythm signs in the later manuscripts. The consort part books he also copied are presumed to have been used for teaching the choristers in his care and other pupils at Oxford and Westminster Abbey, but the purpose of the solo lute books is not at all clear. It is most likely that he chose to collect and record for his private use the lute music in circulation in the capital, which he first must have had access to when in Oxford and surely did when he moved to the centre of court life at Westminster Abbey. He may well have been acquainted with most of the resident and visiting composers still living, and could have been trusted to borrow their lute books long enough to copy a selection of his choice. From the high quality of much of the music, it seems he could play the lute to a high standard of proficiency and for his own personal recreation. Thankfully his hobby of filling up the four manuscripts obsessively with the huge amount of contemporary music that he laid hands on over a quarter of a century has turned out to be an invaluable legacy for the lute revival nearly 400 years later.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The Holmes lute books are the first English sources to abandon the predominant influence of Italian musicians on the earlier Tudor court in favour of the characteristic forms of English pavans, galliards, almaines and sets of variations on popular ballad tunes, and so collectively preserve the flowering of the Golden Age of English lute music. The 324 items in Dd.2.11 are for solo renaissance lute mainly of 6 courses, except for 55 bandora solos and 1 bandora consort part. The contributor of the most music is Anthony Holborne with 28 lute solos and 19 for bandora. He was a highly praised musician and styled himself 'Gentleman and servant to her most excellent Majestie' (Elizabeth I) in his book of cittern solos published in 1597. However, the 20 lute solos by John Johnson, 21 by Francis Cutting and 38 by John Dowland are a very significant part of the music Holmes collected for his first manuscript, mainly copied in Oxford. It is a major source for the music of Richard Allison (8) and Francis Pilkington (8), and many others are represented by one or a few items each, ranging from the great to the obscure and including English composers from much of the Elizabethan period: Robert Ascue (2), Edward Blankes (1), William Byrd (2), Michael Cavendish (1), Edward Collard (2), Mr Lusher (2), John Marchant (1), Robert Parsons (1), Peter Philips (1), Edward Pierce (1), Thomas Robinson (1), Nicolas Strogers (1), John Taverner (1), John Whitfield (1). The genres are also largely typical of English lute music and are dominated by pavans and galliards (26 fantasias, 83 pavans, 84 galliards, 19 almaines, 8 jigs and settings of 15 popular ballad tunes, some in the characteristically English form of a set of variations).</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In addition to English music, Holmes also copied music by continental composers employed at the English court, including the Italians Augustine Bassano (1), Lodovico Bassano (3), Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (13), Renaldo Paradiso (1), and the Flemish Philip van Wilder (3). Music by composers with no obvious association with England also found its way into his hands, including one each from the continental printed collections by Emmanuel Adriaenssen, Joan Maria da Crema, Melchior Neusidler and Matthäus Waissel, as well as fantasias by Francesco da Milano (4), and lute intabulations of vocal music by the Flemish and French composers Jacob Arcadelt (1), Derick Gerarde (1), Orlando de Lassus (3) and Claudin de Sermisy (1), as well as the Spanish composer Cristobal Morales (1). Apart from the largest single collection of English lute solos, Dd.2.11 is also the largest of only seven known sources of music for the wire strung 7-course bandora, and includes all the known bandora solos ascribed to Anthony Holborne (19), together with a few by Alfonso Ferrabosco (6), Richard Allison (2) and Mr Valentyne (1). The remainder are anonymous, or bear the names of John Dowland (3), John Johnson (2) and Francis Cutting (1). It seems likely that Holborne composed for the bandora, but it is not clear how many of the other bandora pieces were written for the bandora rather than arranged from lute solos of the named composers.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Many lute solos in the Holmes manuscripts have titles with the names of dedicatees, including royalty, nobility, members of the merchant class, academics or actors from the London theatres. The more famous can be easily identified and patronage often runs in families, but it is only rarely that the date or the occasions for which the music was written can be identified. Composers were probably either commissioned to write appropriately merry or sorrowful music for events such as marriages or funerals, or else they submitted music with the offer of a dedication to honour a patron or for direct financial reward, in the same way that they dedicated whole printed books of music to notable figures to acknowledge patronage or for financial gain. The 50 or so dedications in the Holmes lute books include in Dd.2.11 a galliard on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(144);return false;'>72v</a> by an unnamed composer dedicated to Sir Robert Sidney (1563-1626). On fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(166);return false;'>85v</a> is <i>Sir Phillip Sydneys Lamentacion</i> by an unnamed composer, dedicated to Robert’s brother Philip Sidney (1554-1586), poet, courtier and soldier. On fols <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(80);return false;'>40v</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(124);return false;'>62v</a>, John Dowland’s very popular <i>Earl of Essex Galliard</i> is dedicated to Robert Devereux, Queen Elizabeth's favourite from 1587 who was executed for treason in 1601. The tune became a favourite well into the seventeenth century under the title <i>Can she excuse</i> from the related song Dowland published. The dedicatee of Francis Pilkington’s <i>George Pilkingtons Funerall</i> on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(13);return false;'>6r</a> was presumably the composer’s brother or other family member, but the date of his death is not known. A piece written for a specific event that can be dated is the anonymous lute solo titled <i>Mr Chidleys farewell</i> on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(87);return false;'>44r</a>, probably marking the departure of John Chidley and Andrew Meyrick from Plymouth with three ships in 1589, a voyage which came to utter disaster and probably ruined the Chidley family. Finally several jigs are dedicated to famous comic actors, presumably celebrating such events as their rise to fame or their retirement from the stage, and it is likely that the actors danced the jigs to the music on stage. Dd.2.11 includes versions of jigs probably for the actors Richard Tarleton (d. 1588) on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(111);return false;'>56r</a>, Robert Wilson (d. 1600) on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(136);return false;'>68v</a>, and William Kemp (d. 1603) on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(194);return false;'>99v</a>.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>John H. Robinson, Lute Society</p>

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