skip to content

Music : Mathew Holmes lute books


<p style='text-align: justify;'>Dd.5.78.3 is the second of the four <i>Mathew Holmes lute books</i>, copied probably 1595-1600. 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 <a href='/view/MS-DD-00002-00011/1'>Dd.2.11</a> , Dd.5.78.3, <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 157 items in Dd.5.78.3 are all solos for a renaissance lute with 6- or 7-courses, except the very first piece which is for lyra viol. Francis Cutting (26), John Dowland (25) and Anthony Holborne (22) seem to have been Holmes’ main interests at this period. Daniel Bacheler (6) is also quite well represented, and lute arrangements of music by William Byrd (4) also feature. Holmes also seems to have had contact with, or at least access to manuscripts of, a variety of other composers from the earlier generation of court lutenists Philip van Wilder (1), Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (4) and John Johnson (2), as well as those contemporary with his time at Westminster Abbey, Richard Allison (2), Edward Collard (3), John Marchant (1), Edward Pierce (1), Peter Philips (1), Thomas Robinson (2), and the more obscure Robert Ascue (1), Michael Cavendish (1), Daniel Farrant (1), Robert Kindersley (2), Mr. Lusher (5) and Henry Porter (1). The genres are typical of English lute music (3 fantasias, 36 pavans, a staggering 75 galliards, 6 almaines, 8 jigs and settings of 11 popular ballad tunes, some in the characteristically English form of variations). French music is barely present with just one example each of a branle, courante, volte and a lute setting of a French ayre.</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, 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. Among the 50 or so dedications in the Holmes lute books, John Dowland's <i>Lady Rich Galliard</i> found on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'>9r</a> (and on MS Dd.9.33, fol. 91v) is likely to be dedicated to Penelope Devereux (1562/3-1607), daughter of Walter Devereux (1541-1576), 1st Earl of Essex, whose guardians forced her to marry Lord Robert Rich (1559-1618), 1st Earl of Warwick, in 1581. She was also the ‘Stella’ of Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet <i>Astrophel and Stella</i>, and she may also be the dedicatee <i>My Lady P</i> of the anonymous pavan on fol. 55r of MS Dd.2.11. A lute solo with the cryptic title AHF (Anthony Holborne Funeralls?) on fols 11v-12r of Dd.5.78.3 is called <i>The Countiss of pembruch Fineralles</i> in the Herbert of Cherbury lute book (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MU MS 689). It was probably composed to mark the deaths in 1586 of the father, mother and brother of Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621). The piece titled <i>Mr Ant Mildmaies Paven</i> and its related galliard by Edward Collard on fols <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(106);return false;'>53v-55r</a> are probably dedicated to Anthony Mildmay of Apethorp (d.1617); if so they would have been composed before he was knighted in 1597.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>John H. Robinson, Lute Society</p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: