Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Music | John Milsom (Liverpool Hope University) and Jessie Ann Owens (University of California at Davis)

As we complete our research into England’s first major printed music treatise, we take this opportunity to share our current thoughts about Morley’s A plaine and easie introduction, and explain our strategy for publication. Underlying our work is a focus on ‘making’ – the processes of making a manuscript for the printer, and of making a printed book from that manuscript. Morley’s manuscript does not survive, so must be inferred from the finished book; but an investigation of its text does draw us into the materiality of his working methods, as he ‘tombles and tosses’ his various sources, whether acknowledged or not, and transforms them both to reflect his own understanding and priorities, and to make them conform to his design and purpose. The identification of Morley’s extensive ‘library’ of sources reveals a complex and multi-layered text, created in part from pre-existing materials and in part from his own experience and training as a musician. His distinctive voice emerges from the tantalizing accounts of musical practice evident in action verbs like foist, shift, stir, hang. Our investigation of the 1597 edition itself – the book qua book – has led to unexpected discoveries. We now believe that Morley, quite exceptionally, may have devised his treatise largely as a sequence of double-page spreads, and hence composed its literary content, music examples, tables and diagrams to fit into two-page openings. If our theory is correct, then layout is in effect an integral element of Morley’s text: pedagogy and design proceed hand in hand. Initially we had planned to publish a three-volume study in which our new edition of Morley’s text (vol. 1) is accompanied by a critical apparatus (vol. 2) and a set of essays by a distinguished cohort of musicologists (vol. 3). Our approach, however, has been transformed by the decision to add a full colour facsimile of a copy of the 1597 edition itself (vol. 4), allowing the book’s remarkable properties to be fully savoured and appreciated.

Free to attend, register here.

About the series

This long-running series of seminars, convened by Dr Margaret Bent, considers all aspects of medieval and renaissance music. It usually consists of a talk by an invited speaker and then a period of questions, to which all attendees are encouraged to contribute.

Note on Hilary Term, 2022

The first (individual) presentation will be about half an hour, followed by invited discussants who will engage the speaker in conversation about the paper. The two joint presentations will have no additional discussants. In all cases, the floor will be opened for comments and questions by others after about an hour.