Singing Books

Christ Church has one of the finest collections of English and Italian madrigals in the world and a history of music-making within the library. It is the perfect site for Singing Books: Text, Object and Song in the International Madrigal, a combined exhibition and concert series exploring the relationship between madrigal music, words and the physical objects of books.

This exhibition aims to provide an introduction to the history of the genre of the madrigal and to its present usage through exploring the Christ Church music collection. The trio of themes- madrigals, text and physical books- involve the interplay between madrigalian music and poetry, the geography and history of their translation and transmission from Italy across Europe and into England, and the transformation of the genre across time.

Drawing on the Library’s historic bequests, the accompanying concert series will feature musical treasures from the collection and will highlight relationships between text and music that are more easily grasped through sound; it will also include new madrigals composed by the curator of the exhibition, exploring themes which arise in the concert series. The concluding concert will feature the highlights of the series.

The madrigals in Christ Church’s collection include copies of classic texts such as Morley’s Canzonets, translations, re-settings, contrafacta (re-written text to existing tunes) and many more textual oddities. There are a wealth of connections between poetry and music to be explored, and the books in Christ Church Library’s music score collection are bursting with potential for investigation.

The exhibition was open in the Upper Library from 8th March to 22nd June 2018.

Singing Books: Text, Object and Song in the International Madrigal is curated by the Graduate Trainee Librarian, Chris Cottell.