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Part 1: The Pembroke Choir Books and other Music Manuscripts from Pembroke College, Cambridge


Six liturgical musical part-books, c1650, and an extremely rare 15th century manuscript of John Dunstable form the core of this original microfilm publication which brings together all the music manuscripts at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

This is the first time that these sources have been made available. The part-books have been filmed first (Reels 1-2) followed by the Dunstable Ms and other sources (Reel 3).

The Pembroke Choir Books

"The early history of the six music manuscripts preserved at Pembroke College, Cambridge, is an almost complete mystery. The part-books, which are all in their original bindings, were first discovered by Mr Charles Cudworth in the early 1950’s, when they were found stacked in the College Library on a shelf devoted to ‘elephants’.... The scale of some of the pieces in the Pembroke manuscripts suggests that the part-books were not originally intended for Pembroke College Chapel. Although the collection includes a number of fairly straightforward compositions (such as Tallis’ ‘I call and cry’ and William Mundy’s ‘O Lord, I bow at the knees’) it also contains Tomkins’ twelve-part full anthem ‘O praise the Lord, all ye heathen’ and Byrd’s Great Service, in addition to two eight-part compositions by William Child; only a highly-skilled choir would have attempted music of the scale of these compositions."
John Morehen, College of Church Mission
Washington Cathedral + Mount Saint Alban, Washington DC writing in The Sources of English Cathedral Music c1617-c1644 (Cambridge PhD thesis, 1969)

The period from the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 and the publication of the Authorized version of the Bible (King James text) in 1611 marked a golden age for English culture. Those 50 years witnessed the flourishing of literature and drama with Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sidney and Spenser; the exploration of the world by Hawkins, Raleigh, Frobisher and Drake; the scientific discoveries of Bacon, Gilbert and Harvey; and the music of Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes, Wilbye, Tallis and Dowland. Even though public concerts were still unknown, music played a vital part in Elizabethan culture. Composers actively collaborated with playwrights and poets; madrigals were popular songs; and church services were accompanied by glorious vocal and organ music.

The six Choir Books held at Pembroke College, Cambridge are an important source for scholars of Early Music and contain compositions by most of the leading figures, including:

Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585) - organist at Waltham Abbey and the Chapel Royal who was granted a 20 year monopoly of music publishing with his pupil William Byrd in 1575. He is represented by 3 works including his Short Service and ‘I call and cry to thee O Lord’.

William Byrd (1543-1623), another member of the Chapel Royal who composed for both the Latin and the Anglican services and created his finest works in the religious field. There are 7 works by Byrd ranging from his Great Service to ‘Sing joyfully’ and ‘Christ rising’.

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) - sometimes described as "the last of the Elizabethans", virginalist to King James I and organist at Westminster Abbey. Among the 6 works gathered here are his Short Service, First Preces and Psalm, Second Preces and Psalm, ‘Behold I bring you glad tidings’ and ‘glorious and powerful God’.

William Mundy (1529-1625), composer and singer in the Chapel Royal. His Service and ‘O Lord I bow the knees’ are featured here.

Thomas Tomkins (1572-c1650), composer of some of the greatest masterpieces of English polyphonic church music. There are 8 works by Tomkins including two services (Magnificat and Venite), ‘O pray for ye peace of Jerusalem’, ‘Above the stars my saviour dwells’ and ‘O praise the Lord’.

Other composers represented are:
Dr Bull,
William Child (12 works - 5 services, 3 Full and 4 Festal Anthems),
Richard Farrant (3 works, some unique),
Nathaniel Giles (5 works),
Hooper (2 works),
Robert Johnson,
Morley (2 works) and
Rob Parsons.

The part-books were probably compiled between 1625 and 1644 and whilst their exact origin remains a mystery, it is possible that William Child was directly or indirectly connected with them. He was a friend of Matthew Wren whose new Chapel at Pembroke was dedicated in 1665.

John Dunstable

Described by the New Grove as "the most eminent of an influential group of English composers active in the first half of the 15th century" John Dunstable (1390-1453) left behind remarkably few manuscript sources. There are only 51 items bearing uncontradicted ascriptions to him, and no more than 20 of his works are known to have been copied in English sources. Mss 314, which appears at the start of Reel 3, is a collection of musical fragments. Of these, the most significant are items 6 , 7, 8 & 9 which comprise two bifolia, each the middle of a gathering, from a choir book of c1440, now split into four separate leaves. These contain three votive antiphons [Marian], two settings of the Gloria and three of Credo. The ascription "Dunstabell" appears at the head of one of the leaves. The Gloria is unique and one of the credos (‘factorem celi et terrae, visibilis omnis et invisibiliis’) and ‘Quam pulchra es’ (for 3 voices) can definitely be attributed to him. These readings have a special authority, as they arise from a native source produced during the lifetime of John Dunstable.


The remaining six volumes round off this small but choice collection of musical sources. They include two works by A Cornelli in manuscript (Op 2 & Op 4), a small collection of musical scores (ranging from Tudway to Thornowitz, probably early 18th century), a collection of anthems and canticles (Dr Blow, Henry Hall, Mr Tucker, Thomas Tudway et al, early 18th century), a collection of Opera songs and airs (printed, 1725), the Psalms of David (printed, 1790) and a volume on harmonics by Robert Smith (printed, 1749).

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