A fascinating musical rediscovery

I’m really excited to learn that a music text dating back to the boundary between the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance has been revived, and is about to be issued as a CD.  The Telegraph reports:

Choral music not heard since the time of Henry VIII has been brought to life for the first time in 500 years, as an academic unearths an untouched manuscript and shows it to a modern choir.

The manuscript, a book of 34 religious songs, was given to Henry VIII as a lavish gift from a French diplomat in his early reign.

Containing songs referencing Henry and his then-bride Catherine of Aragon, it is considered the most “luxurious” surviving diplomatic gift of its kind.

It remained in the Royal Collection after the king’s death, and was later given to the nation by George II where it has remained untouched in the vaults of the British Library ever since.

Dr David Skinner, a Cambridge fellow, has now examined the manuscript for the first time in hundreds of years, before bringing the music back to life with ensemble choir featuring nine singers and period instruments.

Dr Skinner said the existence of the manuscript had been known to specialist scholars, but added no-one had ever studied it, leaving the parchment pages “white as snow” when he opened it.

Given to Henry VIII around 1516, it was tailor-made for the Royal couple and produced in the workshop of Petrus Alamire, a scribe and musician who went on to spy for the king.

There’s more at the link.

For classical and choral music buffs, this is an extraordinary release.  Some of the material hasn’t been heard, let alone recorded, for hundreds of years.  It’s been performed in completely authentic style by Dr. Skinner’s ensemble group Alamire, using traditional instruments of the period such as sackbuts and cornetts (the latter is fascinating, and not to be confused with the brass cornet).  If you’d like an example of how obsessive Dr. Skinner and Alamire are about musical authenticity, as well as some beautiful period singing, take a look at this video. It’s a teaser for a 2009 TV series by David Starkey celebrating the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII, who was probably the greatest single patron of English music.

Amazing stuff for enthusiasts.  I’m looking forward to their new CD.  (If you’d like to hear more of Alamire’s music, check out David Skinner’s YouTube channelBeautiful!)

You can pre-order the CD on Amazon;  it’ll be released in mid-October.  I’ve got my order in already.



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