Thursday, December 24, 2009


Cambridge University Library MS Dd.2.11. The very title makes the heart beat a little faster and sets the mouth watering, doesn't it? Alright, I admit it's not the most thrilling of names. But it's possibly the most important source of English lute music. Copied by Mathew Holmes in c. 1588 - 1600, it contains 200 pages and 325 wide-ranging pieces of music.

The bulk of the music is by the great English lute composers of the time such as John Dowland, Anthony Holborne, Francis Cutting, Francis Pilkington and John Johnson. But there are also appearances by continentals such as Francesco da Milano (from 50 years earlier), Emanuel Adriaenssen, Alfonso Ferrabosco, or Matthäus Waissel. As well as the expected pavans, galliards, fantasias and the like, there are also lots of short page fillers, little pieces lasting maybe 30 seconds with colourful titles: Clement's squirrel, Hunting of the mouse, Go merrily wheel, Playfellow, and various Jigs and Toys.

I'm lucky to have a photocopy of the manuscript, but it's a poor quality copy and often illegible, as the picture shows. So I'm delighted that the Lute Society is publishing a smart new facsimile edition in 2010. I am putting together a concert programme of music from Dd.2.11 which I'll be performing in several concerts in May 2010. One of them is planned to be at the second European Lute Festival in Germany, where Ian Harwood will also be giving a talk about the manuscript. Ian is president of the Lute Society, and the scholar who did the pioneering research on the Holmes manuscripts, and it's a privilege to be working with him.

My picture isn't just a random page. The manuscript contains several vocal intabulations: arrangements for solo lute of polyphonic pieces originally for voices. This particular one seems to have been unidentified until now, so I was rather chuffed when playing through the manuscript to find that I recognised it. It's an arrangement of the 5-voice motet Verbum Iniquum by the Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales, which also exists in printed versions for lute from Germany (Newsidler, 1544), Spain (Fuenllana, 1554) and France (de Rippe, also 1554). It seems to have taken another 40 years to reach England.

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