The Gyffard Partbooks, I

Mateer, David, ed. The Gyffard Partbooks, I. By . London, UK, Stainer & Bell (for the British Academy) (2007).




This volume, the first in a set of two, brings to public attention the large quantity of hitherto unedited yet high-quality music in the Gyffard partbooks (British Library Add. MSS 17802-5). That collection is important to scholars of Tudor music for three main reasons. It has survived intact (unlike many contemporary anthologies); it contains a higher percentage of unica than any other collection of the period; and its repertory consists of a broad cross-section of liturgical types current in the pre-Reformation English church. Had Gyffard suffered the depredations of time, our knowledge of the works of William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Sheppard, Christopher Tye, William Mundy, John Taverner and a host of other minor figures would be immeasurably diminished.

The Introduction builds on the editor’s extensive work already published in article-form. Crucial questions regarding the date and provenance of Gyffard are discussed, and fresh evidence is adduced concerning the compiler’s identity, social milieu and religious proclivities. Under ‘Editorial method’ and ‘Performance issues’ new light is shed on some of the partbooks’ more problematic features, including its occasionally idiosyncratic notation and the provision of plainsong incipits at the wrong pitch in relation to the cantus firmus or faburden embedded in the polyphony.

The music is then presented in a critical edition using original note-values and spelling. The alternatim chant sections, omitted from the partbooks, are also supplied from contemporary liturgical sources. A translation of the verbal text of each piece forms part of its detailed critical commentary. Gyffard 1 comprises 41 items, including a Te deum, two Masses, processional psalms, office responds, and Lady Mass Kyries and Alleluias, plus the only complete St Matthew Passion of English origin to survive. It is thus the largest volume to date in the EECM series. Volume 2, with three ‘square’ Masses, a Jesus Mass, four Magnificats and several antiphons, will be just as extensive.

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