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Listening in the Library: Matthew Parker’s Sonorous Books

Professor Emma Dillon, King’s College London

‘Archbishop’, ‘bibliophile’, ‘antiquarian’, ‘theologian’, ‘history-maker’ and ‘reformer’ – these are all well-known dimensions of the life of Matthew Parker (1504-75), and ones refracted through the manuscripts and printed books he acquired for his precious library. But hidden among the library’s treasures – sometimes quite literally buried in bindings – is another, less familiar history, though paradoxically one that clamours to be heard: that of sound. To some extent, this is an accidental history. Neither Parker nor his book-collecting agents were explicitly intent on building a music library (music being the most recognisably audible component of a book). Even those few famous examples of books specifically dedicated to musical practice, such the Winchester Troper (15) or compilations of medieval European music theory (3, 14), reflect conceptions of music very different from our own. In one, sound, made visible in early systems of musical notation, is understood as the vocal facet of sacred, ritual texts of the Christian liturgy; in the other, musica is a form of knowledge and part of a medieval liberal arts training. In so far as Parker was invested in scrutinising early church history or genealogies of academic knowledge embodied by such books, we may add ‘music-maker’ to the list of his lofty epithets. But to study these areas of the collection from the perspective of sound is also to shine light on a rarely considered dimension of Parker’s life: his own relationship to music as integral to his religious practices, and his interest, too, in the history of ideas regarding the ineffable powers of sacred sound. 

While those few books in the Parker Library comprehensively filled with musical notation, or theorising sound’s physical properties, may be contextualised within Parker’s broader fascination with church or intellectual history, sound is also an inadvertent yet ubiquitous passenger in many more volumes. So much so that were it possible to ‘turn up the volume’ on the collection, the library would resound in arresting cacophony. It is present in books retro-fitted for performance, when a scribe added a single song, filling a gap in the parchment as a seeming afterthought. Or when decades or even centuries later, someone slipped a few folios of a decomissioned songbook into a book whose contents were far removed from music. Or when, here and there, musical doodles appear in the margins of an otherwise silent book. Why are they there? To enhance meaning? Or are they simply evidence of wandering minds? Many of Parker’s books, his printed books especially, tell a rather more traumatic tale of sound’s past: of old music books discarded and cannibalised, absorbed into the fabric of bindings and spines as material life-support for new creations. Yet what was trash for earlier book-makers is treasure for modern historians – those crumpled slivers of old melodies reveal snatches of past musical worlds that are otherwise almost entirely extinct. Finally, there are the signs of sound we might be forgiven for missing altogether. The trumpeting of a marginal elephant or of a heavenly emissary, the strum of David’s harp, or the swirl of an angelic speech-scroll – while these might engage modern eyes in silent contemplation, such signs ignited the acoustic imagination of earlier readers, attuned as they were to supplying voices and sounds to what their eyes saw in their books.

Listening in the Library traces an aural journey through Matthew Parker’s library. It offers four ‘soundings’ from the collection, exploring a sample of the diverse ways in which sound – musical sound especially – manifests.   

Professor Emma Dillon in the Parker Library

The Manuscripts

I ‘Syng unto the Lord a song of new accord’: Matthew Parker, music-maker

1 Matthew Parker’s English metrical translation of the Latin Psalter includes harmonisations of the eight Psalm tones set by Thomas Tallis. Open here to a setting of Psalm 2 to the ‘third tune’.  
Matthew Parker, The vvhole Psalter translated into English metre, which contayneth an hundreth and fifty Psalmes(London: John Day, 1567).
[CCCC, SP.1]
2 A pre-Reformation manual of Latin Christian liturgical rites from Parker’s collection of printed books, printed on parchment. Open here to chants and texts for the Mass of the Dead. 
Manuale ad vsum insignis ecclesie Sarum: summaq[ue] dilige[n]tia ementatu[m] (London: Richard Pynson, 1506].
[CCCC, E.O.H.10, lxxxv v-lxxxvi r]1.     
3 Parker’s manuscript collection includes several notable medieval treatises on music, including Walter Odington’s De speculatione musicae (c. 1300), shown here open to Odington’s account of plainchant and regulations concerning the third and fourth Psalm tones. 
Compilation of music treatises; southern England, fifteenth century.
[CCCC, MS 410, 25v]
4 English mystic Richard Rolle’s Middle English commentary on the Latin Psalter (c. 1348). Open here to Psalm 1 with the familiar image of King David with his harp.
Middle English commentary on the Psalter; England, c. 1425.
[CCCC, MS 387 1v]
5 Middle English verse translation followed by an Anglo-Norman prose translation of the Latin Psalter (dating from the 12th or 13th centuries). This copy contains annotations by Parker, as shown in the Middle English translation of Psalm 131, ‘Domine, non est exaltatum cor meum’ (right hand side).
Middle English and Anglo-Norman translation of the Psalter; Norwich, c. 1300-1325.
[CCCC, MS 278, 80v-81r]
II Amplified books  
6 Notated liturgical prose for the Feast of Saint Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury from 959-988 and early reformer of the English church. Sole musical item in a hagiographic collection.
Compilation combining two volumes devoted to saints Dunstan, Odo, Maiolus and Odilo; Canterbury (?), c.1000 and 1100.
[CCCC, MS 328, 76v]
7 Notated liturgical chants from the Office of Saint Mellitus, Archbishop of Canterbury from 619-624, beginning with the vespers chant ‘O Mellite dulcissime’. Sole musical addition to a manuscript containing the Chronica of Frechulf of Lisieux (fl. 823-853), copied at St. Augustine’s, Canterbury. 
Frechulf of Lisiuex, Chronica; St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, late eleventh or early twelfth century. Musical additions are near contemporary, in a style of musical script associated with Canterbury at this time.
[CCCC, MS 267, iii v]
8 Notated liturgical chants from the Office of St. Augustine of Canterbury, first Archbishop of Canterbury, beginning with the responsory ‘Regnas Augustine’. Sole musical additions to a miscellany of texts associated with St. Augustine, including several by Goscelin of Saint-Bertin.
Miscellany relating to Saint Augustine of Canterbury; Christ Church, Canterbury?, c. 1150. Musical additions are near contemporary. 
[CCCC, MS 312, 294]
9 Leaves from a late fourteenth-century music manuscript of English liturgical polyphony added as flyleaves to a Latin sermon collection copied in the twelfth century. Open here to a four-part setting of the chant ‘Alleluia, nativitas gloriose virginis Maria’, for the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. 
Sermon collection, compiled by Paul the Deacon; twelfth century. With two musical leaves added; English, late fourteenth century.
[CCCC, MS 065, 135r]
III Discarded sound  
10 Fragments from a notated Latin liturgical manuscript dating from the thirteenth century, used as original binding strips in book printed in 1559. Open to the front, with an early Corpus Christi College library bookplate visible.  
Eutropii V.C. Historiae Romanae breuiarium … Antonij Schonhouij, Eliae Vineti, et Henrici Glareani opera ac fide integritati suae restitutum editor (Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1559).
[CCCC, SP.101]
11 Leaves from a large music manuscript that included polyphonic settings of English, Anglo-Norman and Latin texts, dating c. 1250-1300. Serving as flyleaves and binding materials for a copy of Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum historiale. Open here to two-part motet, ‘Worldes blisce have god day/T [Benedicamus Domino]’, and fragments from two other pieces. 
Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum historiale; early fourteenth century. Musical leaves; England, c. 1250-1300.
[CCCC, MS 008,]
12 Partial leaf from a Latin liturgical manuscript dating from the thirteenth century, with portions of the litany of the saints visible. Used as the wrapper for a book printed in 1598.
The most excellent, profitable, and pleasant booke, of the famous doctor and expert astrologian, Arcandam or Aleandrin … now newly turned out of French into our vulgar tongue, by William Warde (London: Felix Kingston, 1598).
[CCCC, SP.451]
14 Partial leaf from a notated Latin liturgical manuscript dating from the thirteenth century. Used as a pastedown to strengthen the original binding of a printed book from 1544.
Trebellius Pollio. Flauius Vopiscus. Iohannis Baptistae Egnatij Veneti in eosdem annotations ... De principibus Romanorum (Paris: Rob. Stephanus, 1544).
[CCCC, SP.298(1)]
IV Visualising sound  
15 Early example of graphic systems for visualising tones, intervals and polyphony (organum) in a collection of music theoretical treatises aimed at teaching novices how to sing music of the Christian liturgy. Including extracts from Boethius’s sixth-century treatise De institutione musica, and dating c.880-900, two interrelated treatises Musica enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis and the opening of the tonary Commemoratio brevis. Open here to demonstration of how to the chant ‘Nos qui vivimus’ in two and three-part parallel organum. 
Compilation of early music theory; Christ Church, Canterbury, late tenth century.
[CCCC, MS 260, 29v]
16 Among the most famous sources of music in medieval Europe, The Winchester Troper is the oldest surviving compilation of liturgical polyphony (organum). It records a practice of liturgical embellishment associated with the Old Minster at Winchester, using neumatic notation (a early system of musical notation) to inscribe melodies. Open here to the beginning of the section devoted to organum.
The Winchester Troper; Winchester, c. 1020-30. 
[CCCC, MS 473, 135r]
17 Neumatic ‘doodles’ in the margins of a copy of Cassiodorus’s De orthographia, using signs similar in style to those seen in The Winchester Troper. Whether these are abstract pen trials or perhaps a melody the scribe had on his mind is unclear.
Compilation of two volumes containing works on orthography, with authors including Alcuin, Bede, Cassiodorus and others; provenance unclear, possibly English, tenth century.
[CCCC, MS 221, 37v]
18 A heavenly blast is heard in an Anglo-Norman Apocalypse manuscript, catching the attention of an owl.
Illustrated Apocalypse in Anglo-Norman prose translation with commentary; English, c. 1300.
[CCCC, MS 394, 24v]
19 A musical cacophony in the margins of Matthew Paris’s Chronica maiora II (his world chronicle, with focus on Britain). As well as the obvious sounds implied by the musicians, the viewer is encouraged to imagine the sound of the elephant, whose trunk echoes the shapes of the trumpets it carries aloft.
Matthew Paris, Chronica maiora II, of which Matthew was both scribe and illuminator; England, c. 1240-55.
[CCCC, MS 016II, 152v]