Items in the current Long Room exhibition ‘In Tune’ demonstrate the skills and innovative techniques of several pioneering music printers.
The earliest printed item is the Erfurt Enchiridion (1524), the first published collection of Lutheran hymns. The printer Matthes Maler is thought to have produced his edition using proofs stolen from a rival Erfurt printer, Johannes Loersfeld. Maler’s publication is less handsome than Loersfeld’s, but he earns full marks for (literally) seizing a promising business opportunity!
Like Maler’s Enchiridion, John Merbecke’s Booke of Common Praier noted (1550) is block-printed, but in two stages. Richard Grafton, appointed royal printer by Edward VI,first printed the staves and rubrics in red, and then passed the sheets through the press a second time to add the text and musical notes in black.
Thomas Vautrollier, a Huguenot refugee engaged by William Byrd and Thomas Tallis to print their motet anthology Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur (1575), worked with movable type, a method of music printing developed by continental pioneers such as Petrucci and Attaignant but little used in England up to this point. Dedicated to Elizabeth I (who had recently granted the two composers a monopoly in part-music printing in England), the publication was prepared with great care but was a commercial failure as it sold too few copies to offset costs.
John Dowland’s First Booke of Songes or Ayres was first published in 1597 by Peter Short. Short’s use of movable type is considerably less skilful than Vautrollier’s,
but the publication is notable for its innovative typographical layout. Each song can be performed by a solo voice with lute accompaniment (printed on the left-hand page), but is also set for four voices, with the three lower voice parts printed on the right-hand page in an arrangement designed to allow the singers to read from a single copy while seated around a table (hence the term ‘table-book’ to describe this format).- Roy Stanley, Music Librarian