Early English Church Music

English Thirteenth-century Polyphony
A Facsimile Edition by William J. Summers & Peter M. Lefferts
Stainer & Bell, 2016. Early English Church Music, 57
53pp+349 plates.
ISMN 979 0 2202 2405 8; ISBN 978 0 85249 940 5

This extraordinarily opulent volume (approx. 12 inches by 17 and weighing more than seven pounds – apologies for the old school measurements!) is a marvel to behold. The publisher has had to use glossy paper in order to give the best possible colour reproductions of many valuable manuscripts. The textual part of the volume gives detailed physical descriptions of each, with individual historical and bibliographical information, followed by transcriptions of the (often fragmented) texts. Most are from British libraries, but some are from Germany, Italy, France and the United States. Though much of the material is accessible online, the publishers hope that a physical reproduction can help researchers and stimulate new interest in the repertory. It will certainly make an eye-catching centrepiece for an exhibition! In addition to giving scholars direct access to these invaluable source without having to sit, staring at a computer screen for hours. For all of these reasons, this apparent luxury will readily justify its price tag.

Fifteenth-century Liturgical Music, IX
Mass Music by Bedingham and his Contemporaries
Transcribed by Timothy Symonds, edited by Gareth Curtis and David Fallows
Stainer & Bell, 2017. Early English Church Music, 58
ISMN 979 0 2202 2510 9; ISBN 978 0 85249 951 1

There are thirteen works in the present volume. The first two are masses by John Bedingham, while the others are anonymous mass movements (either single or somehow related). Previous titles in the series have been reviewed by Clifford Bartlett, and I confess this is the first time I have looked at repertory from this period since I studied Du Fay at university! At that time I also sang quite a lot of (slightly later) English music, so I am not completely unfamiliar with it. I was immediately struck by the rhythmic complexity and delighted to see that the editions preserve the original note values and avoids bar lines – one might expect this to complicate matters with ligatures and coloration to contend with, but actually it is laid out in such a beautiful way that everything miraculously makes perfect sense. Most of the pieces are in two or three parts (a fourth part – called “Tenor bassus” – is added to the Credo of Bedingham’s Mass Dueil angoisseux  in only one of the sources). Each is preceded by a list of sources, a note of any previous edition(s), general remarks about the piece, specific notes on texting issues (most interestingly where the editors have chosen to include several syllables or words under long notes), and then musical discrepancies. All in all an exemplary work of scholarship, beautifully presented, and just waiting for someone to take up the challenge of recording this intriguing and beautiful music.

Brian Clark