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Music : Mathew Holmes lute books


<p style='text-align: justify;'>Nn.6.36 is the fourth and last of the <i>Mathew Holmes lute books</i>, copied probably 1605-1615. 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>, <a href='/view/MS-DD-00009-00033/1'>Dd.9.33</a> and Nn.6.36, 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 94 items in Nn.6.36 comprise 79 solos, and 1 consort part, for 6- to 9-course renaissance lute (apart from 3 in transitional tunings), as well as 12 for lyra viol and 2 for keyboard. Holmes’ final lute manuscript is a major source for the music of Daniel Bacheler (20 identified pieces and 5 more doubtful), copied more or less consecutively in two sections (fols 2-14 and 34-42). Versions of every single one of his other surviving works are found in Cambridge manuscripts, whether in the University Library collection (Dd.2.11 (2), Dd.5.78.3 (13), Dd.9.33 (6), Dd.4.22 (1) and Add. 3056 (5)) or in Lord Herbert of Cherbury's lute book, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MU MS 689 (17). The other composers represented in this manuscript show a bias towards the early seventeenth century with court or London theatre associations: John Dowland (6 including 1 consort part), Anthony Holborne (1), Robert Johnson (4), John Sturt (3) and others whose lute music is only known from this manuscript: Andrew Marks (1) and (William) Sim(me)s (2). The genres are typical of English lute music (18 pavans, 23 galliards, 5 almaines, 2 maske dances, 2 jigs and settings of 9 popular ballad tunes). French lute music continues to make up a significant part of the contents (16), some anonymous but known from other sources to be by Charles Lespine (2), Mercure (2) and Julien Perrichon (1), and music for lutes in transitional tuning (3) as well as Holmes' only lyra viol tablature (12), apart from the first item in Dd.5.78.3 and the last in Dd.9.33.</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 <i>Packingtons Pound</i> on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(43);return false;'>21r</a> of Nn.6.36, probably named after one of Elizabeth I's favourites, Sir John Packington (1549-1625), in reference to his famous wager to swim from Westminster to London Bridge, and <i>Singers Jig</i> on fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'>3r</a> is probably for the actor John Singer (fl.1583-1603).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>John H. Robinson, Lute Society</p>

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