News about the 1519 Sarum Antiphoner

This summer saw the arrival on the Digital Bodleian platform of the much awaited for 1519-1520 Sarum Antiphoner. This is one of the biggest (and heaviest) volumes to have been photographed in the Library imaging studio. At Christ Church, we have the pars hyemalis of 1519, otherwise known as the Winter half. We were overjoyed to see how welcome this treasure of early printing was, as the first feedback was received minutes after the volume became available online. With Professor Magnus Wiliamson's approval, here is what he says:

"The digitization of the 1519 Sarum Antiphoner marks a step forward for performers and scholars of early music.  By the end of the fourteenth century, most secular churches in lowland England followed the musical and ritual customs of Salisbury Cathedral, the so-called ‘Use of Sarum’. Every church would have had at least one copy of the Sarum Antiphoner which contained the choir chants sung at the daily Office: from Matins and Lauds in the morning through to Vespers in the late afternoon and Compline in the evening.  The Antiphoner therefore provided the musical context for which composers such as Dunstaple, Power, Taverner, Sheppard and Tallis composed polyphonic hymns, responsories and antiphons.

Having the Sarum Antiphoner online therefore provides an invaluable resource.  It affords universal access, without paywall, to a vast repertory of chant; it provides the ritual framework for historically-informed performances; it gives a clean, clear, easy-to-read source of chants and stage directions (printed in red text); and having the only printed edition enables us to establish authoritative readings against which we can compare other sources, such as the few surviving manuscript antiphoners.

Wolfgang Hopyl’s edition of the Antiphoner, printed in Paris in 1519 and 1520, is of the first importance.  Hopyl was the preeminent printer of chant, and the quality of typography is therefore exemplary: this is arguably the most ambitious printing project for the English market before John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, published half a century later. Hopyl’s Antiphoner gives the user an easily navigated text that is also carefully edited (the project was driven from King’s College, Cambridge).

We have here the pars hyemalis or Winter half of 1519.  Digitization of this volume sets a very welcome precedent, opening the way for the Summer half or pars estivalis of 1520 (from a copy outside of Oxford) as well as other major sources of chant, both printed and manuscript.  This project is a major act of academic good citizenship, and to be congratulated."

Magnus Williamson, Professor of Early Music
School of Arts and Cultures, Newcastle University

* For other news related to Special Collections, please go the library Exhibitions and Research.