A New Tudor Partbook in the Christ Church Music Collection

Not long ago, Christ Church Library added a unique Tudor manuscript - Mus 1296 - to its Special Collections. We have since digitised it and it is now available on the Christ Church Digital Library - Music Collection - web page, and Digital Bodleian platform.

This is the violin partbook, dating c.1640, from a set of four volumes, containing consort music by John Coprario (1570-1626) and William Lawes (1602-1645). It contains 8 fantasia-suites for two violins, bass viol and organ by Coprario, and 8 fantasia-suites for violin, bass viol and organ, then 8 fantasia-suites for two violins, bass viol and organ by William Lawes. It was copied in score by two unidentified scribes, probably English. The first hand seems to resemble that found in other Christ Church manuscripts in the Music Collection, such as, for instance Mus 423-428 and Mus 473-478.  Also, its binding of calf over boards, gold-tooled with fillets and small ornaments at the corners resembles closely that of another score by William Lawes, Mus 430.

Mus 1296, the newly acquired Tudor partbook, is part of a significant group  of musical manuscripts which has been in private hands for decades, and has an impeccable provenance history. It was originally connected in some way with John Browne (c. 1608-1691), Clerk of the Parliaments, who annotated some of the contents. Browne apparently had many copies of Coprario's works. They seem to have remained into the possession of his descendants into the 20th century.  Around 1930 the volume was purchased by Nathalie Dolmetsch from the London booksellers Davis & Orioli. Around 1954 it was given by Dolmetsch to Layton Ring of Hexham (1922-2019), and became known as the ‘Layton Ring MS’. On Ring's death, the partbook was acquired by Colin Coleman Music, from whom it was purchased by Christ Church in 2020.

How this volume became detached from the other manuscripts in the Browne collection (many of which are at Christ Church), and its partner partbooks is unclear. The three other partbooks of the set are missing and their story is a mystery waiting to be unraveled.

Musica Britannica, Volume 60 - William Lawes: Fantasia-Suites, edited by David Pinto (London: Stainer & Bell, 1991), pp. 116-117.
John Coprario: Fantasia-Suites, ed. Richard Charteris, Musica Britannica, 46 (London: Stainer & Bell, 1980), p. 173.
Richard Charteris, John Coprario:  A Thematic Catalogue of His Music with a Biographical Introduction (New York: Pendragon Press, 1977), p. 37

Dr Cristina Neagu
Keeper of Special Collections
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