This is a 17th century music book of 29 solo songs in English, French, and Italian, with some accompaniment designed for the theorbo (MS 1041). It was written in the mid 17th century for Lady Ann Blount daughter of Mountjoy Blount. The songs run the gamut of popular English song writers from the English Republic to the Restoration, including Nicholas Lanier (who famously wrote what some consider to be the first recitative in English), Henry and William Laws (both highly popular composers and published extensively by Playford), and Charles Colman (composer and one of the compilers of this manuscript, see ff51-64 with a signature at f54r).


The songbook contains written out accompaniments with embellishments/ ornamentation, as well as instructions in thoroughbass, a commonly used system where numbers were used to identify the chords used to create a basso continuo. This implies that the manuscript was probably intended for advanced players, and possibly used for instruction or teaching.


It has been suggested that this, and the choice of composers, nominally royalists (although Laws and Coleman were active in the English music scene throughout the Republic), as well as the prevalence of French and Italian music, that the intended recipient was familiar with the French court and had royalist, or anti parliamentarian, feelings. Ann Blount’s father was also a member of the royalist army and fought in the second battle of Newbury.

That being said, the explosion of musical publishing due to the collapse of the publishing patents would also account for the interest in this ‘new music’ and the popularity of the composer’s works was not diminished by their previous political bedfellows. Both Coleman and Henry Lawes were very active in the music scene during the Interregnum with Lawes even writing music for masques. Ann Blount’s father also passed on the information he received on the First Army Plot which allowed John Pym to expel royalists from parliament and force many of them into exile. So lines are not always clear.

The Songbook can be divided into two parts with Charles Coleman, Lanier, Henry and William Lawes constituting the first, and largest, part and Edward Coleman John Good-Groome, Matthew Locke, and Alphonso Marsh contributing the second, smaller, part. These seven songs were added in to the book at a later date.

The contributors to this book were all highly regarded composers and performers. Charles Coleman (1605-1664) was an active performer appearing in masques for both James I and Charles I and a member of the Kings Consort. He remained in England during the Republic, during which time he composed extensively and was awarded Doctor of Music from the university of Cambridge. Lanier is a particularly interesting composer being primarily responsible for popularising the new ‘Italian’ style of music in the English court and producing what is claimed to be the first recitative in English, in his Opera Hero and Leander, c. 1625, performed for Charlies I.

This stands in distinct contrast to his pre-Italy compositions ‘Bring away this Sacred Tree’ and more importantly ‘Lovers made Men’. These pieces, it is argued however follow more closely the Declamatory Ayre English tradition.[i] There is much that can be said about the practice of ‘declamatory ayres’ and their relationship to the evolving Italian practice of ‘recit aria’ but this is not the place.[ii] Lanier left England following the defeat of Charles I but had returned by 1650 primarily working as an art dealer, a position which interestingly enough he had previously occupied for Charles. William Lawes, whist still being a popular composer had died in 1645 at Chester during the Civil War. Henry Lawes, his brother on the other hand was a prolific and well-regarded composer who survived the war. Despite working for the court he worked closely with notable republicans, having set to music poems by Milton, Waller, and Carew,[iii] and as did many other people continued working under the new government. Most notably he supplied the incidental music for the Masque “Comous” (1634) and the vocal music for the opera “The Siege of Rhodes” (1656).

It is a common trope that the Republic was a period when music was banned. You can still find the Burney quote ‘Ten years of gloomy silence seem to have elapsed before a string was suffered to vibrate, or a pipe to breathe aloud, in the kingdom’[iv] quoted uncritically, even after the rest of Burney’s work has, justifiably, been superseded. Music playing, performance, and most significantly publishing all continued through this time period and in the case of publishing, expanded greatly.

Of the second group of writers, Locke is by far the best known. He was a prolific composer producing frequent publications for John Playford and holding musical ‘salons’ in London. The group is rounded up with Edward Coleman and Good-Groom both working as music teachers and Alphonso Marsh who was a performer in the Siege of Rhodes and a composer. The collection of names contributing to the book presents a good overview the most popular musicians and songwriters during the Republic and following the Restoration.


The song book also contains works by continental composers. These tend to be older works having been previously published or composed by more established composers. The French composers are Francois de Chancy, who composed for Richelieu and was an active composer of Ballets de Cours, Jean de Cambefort, Michel Lambert a prolific composer, and the Marquis of Mortmart.

MS 1041 contains 29 songs, many of which are unique to this manuscript, (We do account the music good, Qu’un rival vienne devant moi, When shall I see my captive heart, Chere Philis puisque tous mes service, Ne vous etonnez pas, Ma Cloris je me meurs d’amor, Farewell, farewell, fond love, Non temer Filli mia, Last night my fair resolved to go, Ye powers that guard loves silken throne, Lucinda wink or veil those eyes, and Fret on fond Cupid curse thy feeble bow) and which are in four distinct groupings. Of particular note is the French grouping 9v-19v due to the extensively written out vocal embellishments. What we can tell from this ornamentation, and other sections, is that the intention of the composers is for the pieces to be performed in the ‘Italian style’. That being using performance practices and styles that were used and taught in Italy at the time. As opposed to English songs being performed in the common English style that was taught to students and musicians . This could be for a number of reasons from the increasing continental influence to changing tastes or even political signalling. The French songs and, interestingly, several of the songs by Henry Lawes are to be sung in the French style. The level of written out embellishment, if we contend that the book is intended as a teaching aid, in the English/ Italian/ French songs suggests more familiarity with the English and Italian manner of singing. Also whilst many of the songs have embellishments written out few have symbols marking these or other embellishments. The ones that do occur tend to be found in the second, latter collection. They can also be found in the accompaniments.


To take an example Coleman’s Bright Aurelia features an elaborate vocal ornamentation in the second line of the score. Over the text there is a roulade (a musical ornament), typical of Italian coloratura style (a manner of singing) longer than a trill or a mordent but not extending into a cadenza. This is a method of ornamenting a piece of music using a distinctive style of singing. It is placed in a song written in English that is otherwise fairly typical of English Songs of the period. In principle this is an invaluable addition showing the use of stylistic elements, and approaches to singing that would otherwise be overlooked. However, it also shows how assumed knowledge on the part of the performer can obscure  later readers. In this case there are questions about where to start and end the ornament. With this we have clear examples of Italian styles being interpolated into English music.


One of the interesting things about these pages, and something that allows us to date it with some accuracy, are the numerous watermarks in the paper.[v] There are two distinct imprints; on the pages with musical notation there is a stamp of two pillars with the initials “MSD”. The pages without music on them contain a pot type of watermark with the initials IB. . Watermarks in paper were added during the manufacturing process as the paper was drying to identify the paper maker. They also served as statement of quality and of provenance. They are also invaluable for codicological studies for identifying the age, printing location and trade patterns of the early book trade. It should be noted however that the watermarks only show when the paper was made not necessarily when the book was constructed.


Palaeographical studies of the manuscript show five different hands over the various folios. Some are limited to particular genres, hand 2 for example is responsible for all of the French songs, along with one Italian and English. And hands 4 and 5 copied all the English songs with thoroughbass added later

Looking at the various hands displayed in the manuscript several are easily identifiable. One (which one? identifiable as Charles Colman in addition to four others which are unknown. Although it is suggested in Songs with Theorbo (ca. 1650-1663), edited by Gordon Callon,[vi] that one is possibly the same hand as another merely separated by some years.


This manuscript presents a fascinating look popular music, what people were interested in and how tastes were changing, in a rapidly evolving musical landscape. The difference in the musical landscape from the end of 1640 to 1660 was immense. From the proliferation of printed music to the rapid ascendency of continental styles of music. The changes had a lasting and profound impact on the evolution of music and our historical conception of it.

[i] Walls, Peter. “The Origins of English Recitative.” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 110 (1983): 25-40.

[ii]Pinnock, Andrew, and Bruce Wood. “A Mangled Chime: The Accidental Death of the Opera Libretto in Civil War England.” Early Music 36, no. 2 (2008): 265-84.

[iii] Lindenbaum, Peter. “John Playford: Music and Politics in the Interregnum.” Huntington Library Quarterly 64, no. 1/2 (2001): 125-38. doi:10.2307/3817880.

[iv] Charles Burney, A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (1789), 1776-1789, Rpt. (London: Foulis, 1935) 334. This work was issued in four volumes, the first appearing in 1776 and the last in 1789.

[v] Callon,Gordon J. Songs With Theorbo (Ca. 1650-1663): Oxford, Bodleian Library, Broxbourne 84.9 London, Lampeth Palace Library, 1041: 105 (Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era) A-R Editions (1 Jun. 2000) ff ix

[vi] ibid



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