Mid-Fifteenth-Century English Mass Cycles in Continental Sources

Cook, James

PhD, University of Nottingham, 2014

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Fifteenth-century English music had a profound impact on mainland Europe, with several important innovations (e.g. the cyclic cantus firmus Mass) credited as English in origin. However, the turbulent history of the Church in England has left few English sources for this deeply influential repertory. The developing narrative surrounding apparently English technical innovations has therefore often focussed on the recognition of English works in continental manuscripts, with these efforts most recently crystallised in Curtis and Wathey’s ‘Fifteenth-Century English Liturgical Music: A List of the Surviving Repertory’. The focus of discussion until now has generally been on a dichotomy between English and continental origin. However, as more details emerge of the opportunities for cultural cross-fertilisation, it becomes increasingly clear that this may be a false dichotomy.

This thesis re-evaluates the complex issues of provenance and diffusion affecting the mid-fifteenth-century cyclic Mass. By breaking down the polarization between English and continental origins, it offers a new understanding of the provenance and subsequent use of many Mass cycles.