My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music (Byrd, William)
New York: Dover Publications, 1969.
#05179: introduction, preface, and notes removed.
#85843 and 4: This file is from the MIT archive project.
|Work Title||Booke of Virginal Music|
|Year/Date of Composition||1591|
|Instrumentation||Virginal (harpsichord) or organ (manuals)|
|External Links||Wikipedia article|
My Ladye Nevells Booke is a compilation of the finest keyboard pieces by the English composer William Byrd, and, together with the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, one of the most important collections of keyboard music of the renaissance. It consists of 42 pieces for keyboard by William Byrd, probably the greatest English composer at that time. Although the music was copied by John Baldwin, one of the most famous musical scribes and calligraphers of the day, the pieces seem to have been selected, organized and even edited and corrected by Byrd himself.
A heavy, oblong folio volume, it retains its original elaborately tooled morocco binding, stamped with the title, on top of an nineteenth century repair. The illuminated coat-of-arms of the Nevill family is on the title page, with the initials "H.N." in the lower left-hand corner. There are 192 folios each consisting of four six-line staves with large, diamond-shaped notes. At the end is a table of contents.
History of the MS
The origins of the manuscript are obscure. Not even the exact identity of the dedicatee is clear, but Lady Nevell was presumably a pupil or patron of Byrd. There have been several contenders for the title among the widespread Nevill family, but recent research points to the most likely as being Elizabeth, wife of Sir Henry Nevill of Billingbear, Berkshire (c.1518-1593), whose arms on the title page have now been identified. Sir Henry and his family were not Catholics, but his son Henry's association with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex is evidence that the family may have been in favour of religious tolerance.
The date of the manuscript however leaves no doubt, as it was signed as completed by the scribe John Baldwin in Windsor: 'Finished & ended the eleventh of September in the yeare of our Lord God 1591 & in the 33 yeare of the raigne of our sofferaine ladie Elizabeth by the grace of God queene of Englande etc, by me Jo. Baldwine of Windsore. Laus deo'. Baldwin was a fervent admirer of Byrd, as at the end of the fourth galliard he noted: 'Mr. W. Birde. homo memorabilis'. Baldwin also wrote a poem praising Byrd, 'whose greater skill and knowledge doth excelle all at this tyme'.
Elizabeth Nevill must have been closely associated with Byrd, whether as pupil or patron is not known, but the book was most probably a gift to her. She lived principally at Hambleden in Buckinghamshire, nearby to where Byrd and his brothers had a home. At some time it was presented to Queen Elizabeth by Sir Henry Nevill, and then passed through various hands until it was given back in 1668 to an unknown Nevill descendant. The book was preserved by the Nevill family until the end of the eighteenth century, when it passed through several collectors' hands until it returned to the possession of William Nevill, 1st Marquess of Abergavenny. In 2006 it was accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance tax, and now reposes in the British Library.
With the exception of the two pieces dedicated to Lady Nevell, the compositions were evidently neither created specifically for the book, nor for the dedicatee, but are representative of some of Byrd's work of the ten to fifteen previous years. The tenth pavane is dedicated to the Catholic John, Lord Petre, while the sixth was for Kinborough Good, daughter of Dr James Good. The manuscript is notable for the lack of any liturgical works, and the pieces may reflect the musical tastes of Elizabeth Nevill herself. Dance music is represented only by the ten magnificent but somewhat sombre pavans and galliards, and there are none of Byrd's more lively almans, corantos and voltas found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.
The (navy or naval) Battell was supposedly written after the Armada victory of 1588, but more probably alludes to one of the Irish rebellions of the time. It is the first known programmed suite of descriptive music, and shows Byrd in a rare lighthearted vein. The variation forms, sometimes harmonic, sometimes contrapuntal, are on folk-song and dance tunes, and on the hexachord (ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la), possibly an invention of Byrd's. The masterful fantasias and voluntaries (the terms could be used interchangeably), at least one of which is an arrangement of a fantasia for consort, are not likely to have been composed before the late 1580s, but in any case a full generation before the Italian keyboard masters published their toccatas.