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  • Printed Music in the Provinces: Musical Circulation in Seventeenth-Century England and the Case of Newcastle upon Tyne Bookseller William London
  • Stephanie Carter (bio) and Kirsten Gibson (bio)

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries London was the unrivalled centre of English print production and trade. Yet, while the ‘explosion’ of provincial bookselling was, in the words of John Feather, ‘an eighteenth-century … phenomenon’, a growing body of scholarship has begun to show that there was a burgeoning book trade in some regional urban centres from at least the late sixteenth century.1 These studies have brought to light important primary-source evidence of the early English book trade outside London, illuminating the availability of a range of printed texts via provincial booksellers and stationers, alongside some of the distribution networks on which such trade relied.2 At the same time, a number of scholars, primarily in literary and historical studies, have examined the ownership of printed books within and beyond the capital. One aspect of this research can be found in modern editions of private library catalogues and inventories and large-scale volumes of transcribed probate inventories that record early-modern book [End Page 428] ownership.3 These studies tend to focus—no doubt because of the wealth of evidence these contexts provide—on the universities and private libraries of the aristocracy, gentry, and noted bibliophiles. More recently, however, a number of scholars have turned their attention to modes of dissemination, readership, and the reception of specific types of printed text.4 These studies have significantly expanded our understanding of the spread of early-modern print and have laid the foundations for developing a national narrative of its impact that takes account of a geographically and socially dispersed readership beyond the metropolis and its satellite environments.

One aspect of the pre-1700 English print trade that remains largely unexplored, however, is the ownership and circulation of printed music outside London, and the potential role of provincial stationers and booksellers as conduits for such specialist print (and related stationery wares), despite, as we shall see, there being evidence for the sale of printed music outside London during the period in the northern towns of York and Newcastle. This situation is nevertheless hardly surprising; for much of the period prior to 1700, music printing in England was limited to certain genres, while others—lute, keyboard, consort, and liturgical repertory, for instance—circulated almost exclusively in manuscript through networks of professional and amateur musicians associated, in particular, with the cathedrals, universities, and households of the social elite. Indeed, the ‘dissemination of professional composers’ music’ during the Restoration, as Rebecca Herissone has argued, ‘occurred almost entirely via manuscript transmission’.5 Printed music, therefore, represented only a fraction of the music circulating in seventeenth-century England, and only a very small category in the seventeenth-century book trade. There was a hiatus in the development of English music printing between its initial flowering at the turn of the seventeenth century (1588–c. 1620) and John Playford’s revival of the trade in the 1650s; this represents a directly inverse trend to the book trade as a whole, which expanded considerably between 1600 and 1640. Given the prevalence of manuscript transmission and the slow development of commercial music printing, seventeenth-century music source studies [End Page 429] have focussed almost exclusively on manuscripts, dealing primarily with issues of provenance, the identification of music copyists, modes of transmission, and the networks in which they originated and circulated.6

As Peter Holman has recently observed, ‘the study of Restoration music prints now lags far behind the study of manuscripts’.7 This is true for the study of early English music printing more broadly; while there is a growing body of work in this field, scholars have tended to gravitate towards questions of production, focusing on authorship, the role of editors, publishers, the music monopoly holders or compositors, and the entrepreneurship of particular printers or publishers.8 Conspicuously absent from much of this scholarship is the consumer of printed music books as well as exploration of the modes of dissemination that enabled such consumers—especially those remote from London—to access them. A number of studies have, nevertheless...


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