Tudor Partbooks and the Music Collection

A selection of Oxford’s early music treasures wwas on display in the Upper Library from 12 May to 13 August 2016.  This special exhibition showcases the music-books used by singers in the age of Queen Elizabeth I, with special emphasis on partbooks. 

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, church choirs typically sang from large choirbooks, in which different areas of the double-page spread displayed the various voice-parts of a composition. Four or more singers stand in front of the book, each reading her or his own part.

No other manuscripts in the Christ Church music collection are finer than the set of five partbooks copied by Robert Dow. He was a lawyer by profession, and a fellow of All Souls College, so his partbooks are in effect the product of his leisure time, and they combine his love of music with his interest in calligraphy.

We also have the scribe John Baldwin to thank for saving many important Tudor compositions from oblivion. Without the copies he made in his partbooks, many dozens of pieces would have been partly or wholly lost.

This is the result of a successful collaboration with Tudor Partbooks Project (Oxford and Newcastle Universities) and the Oxford Early Music Festival.

The exhibition opened with a talk by Dr John Milsom, leading Tudor music scholar, and a concert by Magnificat, featuring pieces from the Christ Church Music Collection. Magnificat is one of the world’s premier vocal ensembles, internationally acclaimed for its sophisticated, historically-informed performance of Renaissance choral masterpieces.

The exhibition was curated by Dr John Milsom and Dr Cristina Neagu.