This is the third in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

Saturday morning was D-day.  Our panel, on musical prints and misprints, put together by the delightful Samantha Arten.  Anne Heminger was unable to be with us in person, so her paper, ‘Marketing a misprint: Christopher Tye’s The Actes of the Apostles and early English music publishing’, was read by Kathryn Butler.  Tyes Actes of the Apostles has a significant place in English music printing as it is the first volume completely of biblical music . One of the later editions has 14 music settings.  It was, however, hampered by the publisher’s  lack of musical literacy – and it was sold with errors in tact.


Anne described how Seres was not himself a printer but instead employed others to print on his behalf.  The Actes of the Apostles was printed by Hill and included metrical translations of 14 chapters of the First Book of Actes.  Its small size suggests that they had affordability in mind.  Each chapter has its own 4 part music. The significance and substance of the errors made it impossible to sing,  which also might explain why so many copies were printed without music.  She posited that if those printers who had access to musical type were not musically literate, it was easier to print without music than risk errors.  Nevertheless, the ‘wrong’ copies were used rather than discarded, in a text only edition aimed at a different audience.

John Milsom then talked about the musical type used by ‘John Day, London music printer and publisher, 1560-65’.  He argued that Day’s Morning and evening prayer (IAKA Certaine Notes) has been rather overlooked.  Many of the part books in the period are incomplete, but the Morning and evening prayer survives in all parts.  The music is modest, by little known composers and contains several contrafacta.  Day was not a specialist music printer.  Rather, he was best known for role in Protestant literature, especially in printing the Actes and Monuments. John pointed out Day’s music fonts were nested rather than linear, which was very unusual.  In linear type, each note has its own space on a line and you simply set it up next to the previous.  The words need to be aligned with the music text, so he argued that printers presumably started with words and put spaces in the music to make sure the notes sat in the right place over the word.   With linear type, it is easy to correct mistakes if you have proofreader.  But in nested type, each element has its own piece of fount, such as single note heads, stems, ligatures, and individual bits of single lines as well as full staves. This made it a much more complicated job to set up the music and therefore,  it was extremely difficult to correct.

The third paper was by our convener, Samantha Arten, on ‘The pedagogical Failure of The Whole Booke of Psalmes’.  She commented that one source implies that the multitude could not read music, even though the Whole Booke of Psalmes included music tuition features which suggest that one of its aims was to increase musical literacy.  Samantha catalogued many specific errors in the printed music, the music treatise preface and then their cascade effect over the various editions of the book.  She suggested that there were three types of errors:

  • omission,
  • commission,
  • placement. 

She suggested that although those who could read music could easily overcome these issues, they would have caused confusion for novices or those that were trying to learn to read musical notation.  Furthermore, a lack of editorial oversight compounded the problem: new editions took older ones as their models and therefore replicated the errors.


The final paper in the panel was my own, in which I argued that although the mistake in the music on A New Ballade of a Lady was a problem, it nevertheless points us towards a printer who was attempting to experiment with new markets.  I’ve been working on expanding my paper into an article, so hopefully at some stage it will get a proper blog post all of its own!

I had to run from the panel down the corridor to chair the next session from the Scholaroos – a serendipitous coming together of  scholars from Down Under!  We opened with Michael Noone.  His paper was entitled ‘Vivanco’s Liber Magnificarum (1607) and the relocation of Spanish music printing from Madrid to Salamanca’.  He argued that this -movement heralded a golden age for polyphonic choir books, not least because 6 luxury polyphonic choir books were printed in  Salamanca.  He commented that contracts and purchase agreements tell us where and when things were bought, and who bought them, but much less about where they ultimately ended up.  One copy of the Liber Magnificarum went to South America, while some of the cathedrals who bought theirs in the seventeenth century still have their copies.  

Next I introduced Royston Gustavson: ‘Inside the workshop of Christian Egenolff’.  HE commented that Egenolff’s catalogue raises some interesting questions about their printing. His printed sources were all German, especially prints by Peter Schoeffer the Younger, but his material included a lot of reprints.  Royston also noted that the printing format has implications for what survived – the bigger prints survive better. He also noted, quite wryly, that the print was cheap in the cheap books, which were also printed  on cheap paper.  In some he even printed on good paper at the start, in order to entice the buyer, and moved over to cheap and nasty further in where the customer wouldn’t notice until they had got it home! 

Finally, I introduced Louisa  Hunter- Bradley, who talked about ‘The Officina Plantiniana and the European market for printed music (1575– 1595)’.  She used the book to examine the nature of the market and how far the music travelled?  Again, the speaker noted that although we have records about who bought the books, they often bought by booksellers, so that doesn’t tell us the ultimate buying market.  The choir books sold relatively few copies over 22 years, but the part books were better sellers, often to local areas.  Louisa was able to chart the geographical spread of the sales and the period over which those sales were made.  Most of the music book sales were made immediately after publication but they remained on sale for many years.

After lunch, I was happy to be able to hear Katherine Butler speak about her research on ‘Musical Miscellanies in late 16th century England’.  She pointed out that although Tudor partbooks are the most widely studded, they are really in the minority.  Katherine argued that musical miscellanies give us an insight into scribal labour, collection and organisation, which is similar to the argument that I made in my case study on the ballad collections in Singing the News.

The next paper was given by Sophia Eglin on ‘The Matthew Holmes part books: is the viol book truly the work of Matthew Holmes?’ She suggested that it was perhaps not entirely the work of Holmes as the manuscript contains multiple hands. This different handwriting is visible not just in the text but also in the notation, for example, in note head shape and clef.  Holmes was a copyist and educator at Christ Church, Oxford, before becoming part of the Elizabethan court.  

Andrew Johnstone then gave us a fascinating paper on ‘The fragmentary songs of William Byrd: reconstruction and re-evaluation’.  He pointed out that Byrd’s output of consort songs was huge but much of it was unpublished.  Only 8 of the ones that do survive are extant in their original consort song versions – they were usually rewritten by the composer as part songs.  We owe much of our knowledge to Edward Paston’s collection.  He presented suggested identifications of several of the 10 fragments which survive in Edward Paston’s lutebook and Tenbury McGhie manuscript.


The last paper was by my dinner companion, Eleanor Hedger, talking about her research into ‘Prison soundscapes during the English Reformation’.  She suggested that participation in musical performances in helped religious prisoners to assert their identity, noting that there were social and religious aspects to psalm singing.  She discussed Foucauldian interpretations of early modern prison life, arguing that it was less about Foucault’s disciplinary power which targets the minds not the bodies, but more about sovereign power, which targets the body not the mind.  Eleanor argued that music and sonic production were expressions of non-docility for both sides of the confessional divide.

The final session that I attended on Saturday was a themed session on Renaissance soundscapes in the museum of music: urban spaces.  The first paper was given by Simon Bate and was entitled ‘Music and aural experience in pre-reformation Chester’.  Simon talked about acoustimology  the way sound contributes to a person’s understanding of the world.  He described two cities which made up the soundscape of Chester:

  • the physical space which reflects sound 
  • the civil, or the people, who make the sound.  

There is little evidence from pre reformation Chester – one is a manuscript in the Huntington library.  He argued, though, that the wider auditory scene in Chester would have included music, especially from a civic processional point of view.  Nevertheless, the soundscape of processional days was different to that of a normal day and our documentary evidence is inevitably skewed towards the atypical.   The everyday comes in as the background of sonic meaning that people brought to their understanding of the processional plays.    

Simon was followed by Tess Knighton, who discussed ‘Street music and the blind oracionero in early modern Spain’.  Most blind oracionero were from artisan families, and their apprenticeship as street singers recognised their position as deserving poor – people who were worthy of receiving charity because they were unable to support themselves. They were based at the Confraternity of the Holy Pulpit in Barcelona.  The apprentices received a bowed instrument (usually a vihuela) on completion of study.  There were girls but they had limitations of where they could perform – usually in houses rather than on the street.  

Oracioneros’ repertoire included all sorts of religious works. They supplement meagre incomes by selling prints, the pliegos sueltos which I found out about at EDPOP, at the same time as performing them. Tess also noted the resonance between sacred and secular in contrafacta.


Finally, Alex Fisher described ‘The soundscape of sixteenth-century Munich’.  He argued that soundscape studies have come of age, and that we can use soundscape as a way to investigate how sound helps us to understand space.  Alex questioned how ‘Catholic’ space might have been received as Munich stayed Catholic.  There was an idealised space enacted by praying and moving bodies: for example, the angelus bell made people drop to their knees each day.  He noted that militaristic sounds cut through the restricted sight lines of the city and helped people ‘see’ the unseen.  Architecture has a power over sound but nevertheless serves as the location for it.  He reminded us that evidence for actual performances is thin on the ground although we know that music was bought and sold and copied down in Munich. He considered two key questions:

  • How does the term soundscape apply to a city like Munich? 
  • How do we integrate music into more everyday sounds?  

Alex also raised some methodological issues.  After all, he noted, soundscape is not an objective thing which is perceived in the abstract.  It is an  immersive experience. Sound is not what we hear just as light is not what we see, which implies that the notion of an objective urban soundscape is a chimera.  It also implies both time and motion.  

After dinner that evening, I went for a drink with Katherine Butler.  Following a tip off from my fiend, we went in every pub on the right of the high street (as you look down the street from the university entrance) looking for a single pub with something rather special.  In the end, we gave up and went in the first pub we’d passed, which we’d passed by because we’d been told the pub in question was half way down the main street.  There they were.  Lots of pieces of church woodwork!  Apologies for the state of the photos – it was rather dark in there – but I’m afraid I had to act like a tourist and take lots of snaps.  After all, it’s not often you see a pub with a pulpit.