Thomas East and Music Publishing in Renaissance England

Article excerpt

Print culture DAVID J. SMITH Thomas East and music publishing in Renaissance England Jeremy L. Smith Oxford UP (New York & Oxford, 2003); 326pp; £45. ISBN 0 19 513905 4.

This book is the latest in a line of studies centering on printers and publishers of sixteenth-century music, but the first to focus on the music business in London. It presents the results of research on surviving prints, based on a painstaking physical examination of the paper used, watermarks and typefaces. Smith complements existing work on type deterioration with his own study of paper types to show that there were 'hidden editions' mimicking the appearance of earlier ones. When combined with other evidence, a complete picture of interacting relationships between composers, tradesmen and consumers begins to emerge. There is a strong narrative thread to this book which makes it a satisfying read. One particularly striking source of information is an account of the process of publication which emerges in the records of a court case between George Eastland (publisher of Dowland's Second booke of songs) and East.

The music publishing business in London was dominated throughout the period by the music patent granted first to Tallis and Byrd, then later to Morley. These composers need a printer such as East, but he also needed them. They inhabited the world of the court in Westminster, while the printing trade was normally restricted to the commercially-minded city. Each of these players entered music publishing with a different agenda. The first print issued by Tallis and Byrd (the famous Cantiones sacrae of 1575 printed by Vautrollier) was a financial disaster, but Smith convincingly argues that the composers were motivated more by the possibility of increased prominence at court and greater prestige among their colleagues than by financial gain. The same may be said of Byrd's publications once he embarked upon his collaboration with East from 1588. Byrd used the print medium instead of presentation manuscripts to advance his standing in the eyes of a select - but very influential -few. The market for such books must have been extraordinarily limited: not only would the purchasers have had to be able to read Latin and music notation, but they would have needed an ability to perform difficult music probably beyond the reach of most amateurs. It comes as no surprise that there was never sufficient public demand for East to reprint volumes of Byrd's Latin motets. Byrd accommodated East's need to profit from printing music by agreeing to publish books of English songs.

Morley had different reasons for entering the music market. Despite lavishing the greatest praise on the motel in his Plaine and easie introduction (1597), and making disparaging remarks about the lighter forms of secular music, Morley understood his market and made a calculated effort to bring the English madrigal in line with the more popular forms that sold well on the continent.

The publication of polyphonic music, and particularly the Latin motets that Byrd insisted that East print, was not especially profitable. East himself, however, had his eye on one of the most profitable markets of the time: there was an insatiable demand for books of psalms with music. This was where the general music patent came into conflict with a patent granted to John Day granting him the right to print psalmbooks. Whereas Morley made a direct and open challenge to Day's monopoly and lost, East was more circumspect. Smith shows that East was able to use the contacts he made in the world of Westminster through the composers at the Chapel Royal to further his own publishing agenda. In 1592 he was able to use the contacts at court which he had made through Byrd to dedicate his Whole booke of psalmes to Sir John Pickering. In this book he supplied four-part settings to cater for a small, niche market largely neglected by Day. Thus Day did not perceive this book as a threat, and there was no legal action. …