- The Early Tudor Court and International Musical Relations
The period in English music history between the mid-fifteenth century and the late sixteenth has tended to be overshadowed by important developments in native compositional styles and the circulation of music on either side. Furthermore, perhaps because of a tendency to link musical production to vernacular literary flowering in medieval and early modern Britain, most scholars have down-played the vitality of musical imports among the wealthiest and most trendsetting classes well into the seventeenth century. Theodor Dumitrescu's meticulous study of musical relations between England and Continental Europe from the accession of Henry VII in 1485 until the eve of the English Reformation in 1530 is the most thorough book-length study of early Tudor court music in nearly half a century. It challenges the conventional notion that native styles of art music developed and thrived in isolation from Continental tendencies as the Middle Ages gave way to the early modern era, leaving English musical institutions, particularly the court, clinging in relative ignorance to outmoded forms of musical expression in an era of shifting practice.
By the years leading up to 1500, the arts had become vital to the display of rulership, and especially to emergent ideas of princehood. Using an impressive range of primary sources and scholarly studies from several disciplines, Dumitrescu shows how the first two Tudor monarchs included musical materials and personnel along with those of the other arts to help create a truly international and trendsetting environment at the royal court of England. At home and as part of diplomatic events abroad, Henry VII and Henry VIII provided elaborate courtly entertainments to demonstrate exacting and competitive taste as part of their international political agenda and dynastic establishment. Both hired musical performers from such major cultural centers as Flanders, Leipzig, Spain, Venice, and the courts of France and Burgundy, who brought with them not only their international training and repertoire, but also new and updated instruments. Henry VII saw to it that all four of his children received musical instruction from the most eminent of these [End Page 983] foreigners. His son and successor Henry VIII became famous as a performer and collector of musical instruments even as he expanded the corps of international musicians his father had begun to employ at his court. Intriguingly, that most important musical institution, the Chapel Royal, seems to have maintained exclusively native personnel, while court minstrels and members of specific instrumental ensembles were largely foreign.
Music manuscripts of several sorts, from elaborate books full of iconographically-significant illuminations created for Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to more humble compilations for working musicians, came from the Continent to England, and English compositions found their way into Continental sources. Treatises in what is now known as music theory, a blend of speculative works about the powers of music and more pragmatic tracts about the creation and performance of actual pieces, also came to early Tudor England, some as old as Boethius and others only newly published on the Continent. What emerges is not only a more complex picture of art music and its cultural place in England and those regions with which it had diplomatic ties: this book makes clear that, in spite of discernable and often remarked national distinctions in musical sound and structure around 1500, there came about an underlying commonality of musical language and usage that only increased during the rest of the Tudor dynasty. The remarkable internationalization of English musical style in the mid-sixteenth century ultimately developed over decades.
This book is not organized chronologically, but into five clear and well-presented topical essays that are unified by a more general introduction and conclusion. It begins with a cultural and material history of the English royal court as an aesthetic taste-making as well as a political institution, a site of English interaction with Continental European production across the arts, including music. It concludes with an examination of...