Keeping the score

Music in the Library

Sample exhibiton image

Lute and consort manuscripts

A lady playing a lute

A lady playing a lute (or arch lute), with a viol, lute and cittern beside her, from Thomas Salmon’s An essay to the advancement of musick ( London: J. Macock, 1762). MR574.d.65.3
[item not on display]

One of the most important collections of manuscript music in the Library is the group of nine lute manuscripts copied by Mathew Holmes in the early years of the seventeenth century. Holmes was a ‘singing man’ at Christ Church, Oxford in the 1590s, and moved to Westminster as ‘canter’ (precentor) in 1597, where he remained until his death in 1621. Four of the manuscripts are for lute solo, one is for cittern (the seventeenth-century equivalent of the ukulele), and four are from a set of six consort books. They contain a repertoire of over 900 pieces, including many unique pieces by John Dowland.

Also on display is another important lute manuscript, from the sixteenth century but from a very different tradition. This is a biwa-fu (lute-score) from the Kikutei (Chrysanthemum Pavilion) in Kyoto, Japan. It is from a collection of sixty manuscripts of Japanese music bought by Laurence Picken in 1976 and subsequently presented to the Library.