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Music : Mathew Holmes lute books


<p style='text-align: justify;'>Dd.9.33 is third of the four <i>Mathew Holmes lute books</i>, copied probably 1600-1605. 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 Singing man 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> , <a href='/view/MS-DD-00005-00078-00003/1'>Dd.5.78.3</a>, Dd.9.33 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 163 items in Dd.9.33 comprise 149 solos, 5 duet parts and 1 consort part, for 6- or 7-course renaissance lute (apart from 1 in transitional tuning), as well as 6 for bandora and 1 for lyra viol. Unusually for Holmes, a few items in this lute book are copied by a hand other than his own (fols <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(93);return false;'>47r</a>, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(129);return false;'>65r</a>, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(172);return false;'>86v-87r</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(190);return false;'>95v</a> - the lyra viol solo), that also copied music in <a href='/view/MS-DD-00004-00022/1'>Dd.4.22</a> and other lute books. This is probably also the hand that made corrections to the rhythm signs on much of Holmes’ tablature between fols <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(107);return false;'>54</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(118);return false;'>59</a> (i.e. probably during a limited period of copying by Holmes). John Dowland is the composer most frequently represented, with 30 of his lute solos present out of the total of just over a hundred extant. Other composers include some from an earlier generation such as Baruch Bulman (1), Francis Cutting (14), John Johnson (6), Peter Philips (1), Francis Pilkington (1), Nicholas Strogers (1), Thomas Tallis (2), John Taverner (1), as well as those that Holmes may well have encountered in London during his time at Westminster Abbey: Daniel Bacheler (6), Edward Collard (1), Anthony Holborne (10), Robert Johnson (3), Thomas Robinson (1), and the more obscure Robert Ascue (1) and Mr. Lusher (2). The genres are typical of English lute music (7 fantasias, 27 pavans, 33 galliards, 5 almaines, 2 jigs and settings of 21 popular ballad tunes, some in the characteristically English form of a set of variations). As a sign of the changing muscial fashions in early seventeenth-century England, Dd.9.33 includes a larger proportion of French lute music (24), copied in blocks around fols <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(105);return false;'>53-59</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(127);return false;'>64-65</a>.</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. The 50 or so dedications in the Holmes lute books include on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(45);return false;'>23r</a>, John Dowland's galliard usually known as the Battle, or King of Denmark's Galliard which is here given the title <i>Mr Mildmays Galliard</i>, presumably Anthony Mildmay of Apethorp (d. 1617) who is also the dedicatee of pieces in Dd.5.78.3. 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.9.33 includes a jig probably for the actor Edward Alleyn/Allin (d. 1626) on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(55);return false;'>28r</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>John H. Robinson, Lute Society</p>

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