Tudor Partbooks: the manuscript legacies of John Sadler, John Baldwin and their antecedents

Funded by the AHRC, Tudor Partbooks investigates sixteenth-century English music manuscripts as textual sources; as witnesses to changing, and now-superseded, musical practices; and as physical artefacts made, unmade and – in two conspicuous cases – in need of restoration (see source list on p. 7 below). The investigation of these manuscripts gravitates around two main themes: the manuscripts, their contents and copying between the 1510s and the 1580s (particularly within the context of the Elizabethan ‘afterlife’ of much older Latin polyphony); and the consequences of subsequent physical deterioration, and how this can be overcome through digital and compositional restoration. The project capitalises on new research methods made available by the advent of digital technologies, and creates career-path opportunities that will kindle new interest in this period of musicological investigation.

Among several outputs, the Sadler partbooks will be published in facsimile, digitally restored to their state in the 1570s, before they were degraded by John Sadler’s acidic ink; the Baldwin partbooks will be published with a replacement Tenor partbook contrapuntally restored by a team of specialists. DIAMM is known for the spectacular results we have achieved with digital restoration, sometimes creating a readable page from one where it may not even be possible to see music on the original. This is made possible by the use of high-resolution imaging.

Where we have undertaken digital restoration of images that we have permission to show on the main DIAMM website, we also provide secondary images showing these restorations.Providing scholars with access to content that has been invisible for centuries is exciting and rewarding: each discovery increases our knowledge of our past and the sound world that we have inherited, and the importance of working from these primary sources rather than editions is now recognised as of vital importance if we are to understand how music was used and performed by, and for, the people for whom it was written.

A wide variety of techniques are used, from simple colour adjustments to improve contrast, to complex cloning tecniques which repair pages damaged by burn-through. This was the technique used for pages of Bologna MS Q.15 (show on the left) for Margaret Bents award-winning study of this manuscript. We hope to exploit the techniques pioneered in this publication with the Sadler part books. The images above and below show before and after shots of a fragment in the collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The video below shows the type of restoration work that we plan to undertake on the Sadler partbooks before publication.