By Dr Tim Eggington, Queens’ College Librarian. Manuscript music from the Queens’ part book can be seen via this link.
A Queens’ Old Library reader recently chanced upon this long-forgotten volume of sacred music by Gibbons, Byrd, Tallis and other lesser known contemporaries which, it seems, was once used for Queens’ College Chapel services, probably in the 1630s. Although its background is not yet entirely clear we can be certain of its status as an artefact to be counted alongside the limited number of primary sources upon which knowledge of this key period in English music now relies. Moreover, by suggesting the presence at seventeenth-century Queens’ of a choir capable of performing polyphony this discovery affords more general historical significance. Bearing in mind the role of music in the religious quarrels of the seventeenth century, the volume’s contents cast additional light on the college’s orientation within the broader politics of the pre-civil war period. Bound in a seventeenth-century binding, the volume comprises a fine 1636 edition of the Book of Common Prayer (shelf mark G.4.17), a seventeenth century printed programme of the Queens’ College benefactors service, and nearly 50 leaves of well-thumbed hand-written tenor parts from a large selection of English church music. Much (but not all) of the music is in the same hand, probably that of a professional copyist (as yet unidentified). Movements from sung services are bound with their respective portions in the printed text (e.g. Kyrie, Te deum, Sanctus, etc.) after which 42 anthems are bound at the end of the volume. The presence of numerous blank sheets at the end of each section suggests an unfulfilled intention to enter further music. It seems likely that the volume was bound in this way for use not by the choir, but by the precentor, whose job it was to organise liturgy and worship. Sadly missing (or not yet discovered?) are the eight or so part books which would have been used by the choir to sing the services. One of the factors linking this volume to Queens’ College Chapel is an inscription on the inside front cover: ‘Tenor Decani Colligium Reginat’ (Tenor for the dean’s side [i.e. south side], Queens’ College). In addition to music by some principal Reformation composers (Thomas Tallis (1505-85), William Byrd (1539-1623), Christopher Tye (1497-1572)) there are lesser known works by a host of figures, some of them local to the area (John Amner (1579-1641), Wilkinson (fl ?1575–?1612), Osbert Parsley (1511-85)). Although some of the music dates from the early seventeenth century, most of it is sixteenth-century, thereby providing insights into the college’s position in relation to religious and political developments of the day. The inclusion, for example, of Thomas Caustun’s Service for Children is significant as evidence of Queens’ high church inclinations during the febrile religious environment of pre-civil war Cambridge. As one of only four Elizabethan settings to include the Sanctus and Gloria of the communion service, its performance in seventeenth-century Queens’ may suggest that the college had revived the then outmoded practice of singing the entire communion service (See Dom Anselm Hughes, Catalogue of the Musical Manuscripts at Peterhouse Cambridge (Cambridge, 1953), p. xv). Of more purely musical interest is the presence of works for which this would appear to be the only known source, including, a litany by Adrian Batten (1591-1637) and a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by William Cobbold (bap. 5 Jan 1560-1639). A listing of the entire musical contents of the part book can be viewed via this link. We are extremely grateful to Richard Andrewes (former head of music at Cambridge University Library) who has painstakingly identified most of the music and undertaken the job of cataloguing it onto iDiscover. Work continues on the task of identifying the authorship of 12 unascribed works. We hope that a dissertation project on the manuscript currently being undertaken by a third year Queens’ student under the guidance of Dr Silas Wollston will help to resolve some of these issues. Sadly, the lack of a complete catalogue of Queens’ College archives makes further research difficult at the present stage into the identity of the College’s seventeenth century musicians and the circumstances surrounding the creation and use of the Queens’ part book. We do know, however, that unlike other Cambridge colleges no provision was made for the payment of chapel musicians in the college’s statutes (See Ian Payne’s exhaustive study on ‘The provision and practice of sacred music at Cambridge colleges…c. 1547-c. 1646 – to which this blog is heavily indebted). One of the few known mentions of music in college accounts records that its chapel organ was ‘taken down’ in 1570, when an increasing climate of puritanism banished elaborate music from services. A further entry, recording payment of £114.8s.1d for installation of a new organ in the college chapel in 1637, reflects the general reversal of this trend that is known to have occurred during the earlier seventeenth century (see Ian Payne). This musical flowering represents just one manifestation of the High Church movement which gathered pace during the reign of Charles I. Under the influence of his appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, a range of alterations to liturgical ritual were introduced, such as the use of ornaments, railed- in alters, bowing towards the east and elaborate service music.
The installation of Dr Edward Martin as Queens’ president in 1631 ensured that the new approach to liturgy was enthusiastically implemented at Queens’. A staunch supporter of the High Church movement and former chaplain to Archbishop Laud, Martin lavished large sums on the beautification of the College chapel (in addition to the installation of the new organ). With the subsequent defeat of Royalists, Martin was imprisoned (1642), the college chapel was vandalised by Puritans seeking to remove all evidence of Laudian reforms, and elaborate music was banned from church services. It seems likely that it was at this point that the Queens’ part book was removed to the college library and quietly forgotten about (the library’s nineteenth-century printed catalogue includes the prayer book but makes no mention of its accompanying music (p. 107)). The significance of the year ‘1664’ inscribed on the inside-cover remains uncertain: although such old music could have featured in post-Restoration college services the part book’s exclusively pre-civil war content and its accompaniment with the 1636 prayer book suggest its initial creation for use during Edward Martin’s initial tenure. In recent times discussion of Laudian reforms in relation to English music has tended to focus on Peterhouse College, not least, on account of the survival there of an almost complete set of part books. Although the latter retain their pre-eminence as one of our main primary sources of early English church music, the discovery of the Queens’ tenor part book (which is quite different in terms of content and appearance) offers an additional dimension. Over the coming months and years we hope to answer some of the numerous questions raised by this important volume whose discovery has already aroused considerable interest amongst musicologists and historians of the seventeenth century. We are extremely grateful to DIAMM (Digital Archive for Medieval Music) who have digitised this document in full and to EECM (Early English Church Music) for providing the funding. The entire Queens’ part book will shortly be available to view online in full via DIAMM. For now DIAMM images of the manuscript music (without blank pages and the prayer book) are available to view via this link.