The partbooks compiled by Thomas Wode from the mid-1560s onwards represent one of the most important contributions ever made to Scottish music and to its preservation. Commissioned as a set of four-part harmonisations of the emerging Scottish Psalter they ended up as much more, as a result of Wode’s collecting activity and his determination to record and preserve as much as he could of the music of his time, whether composed by Scots or by English and continental composers known in Scotland. As a result, the partbooks provide a unique insight into the musical life of the country in the second half of the sixteenth century. They also preserve a considerable number of annotations written by Wode in an inimitable style which give a fascinating commentary on the happenings of his time, especially as they affected music.
Thomas Wode had most likely been a Tironensian (Benedictine) monk in the Abbey of Lindores before the Scottish Reformation, after which he became a reader and vicar in St. Andrews. He was commissioned by Lord James Stewart, half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots, earl of Moray and later Regent of Scotland, to obtain and compile harmonisations of the 105 tunes included in the newly-printed Scottish psalter of 1564. The harmonisations were to be provided by Scotland’s premier composer of the time, David Peebles, a former canon of the Priory of St. Andrews of which Lord James had been Commendator (i.e. lay) Prior. Lord James’s instructions were that ‘the said David [should] leave the curiosity of musike [i.e. the more complex pre-Reformation polyphonic style] and sae to make plane and dulce’. This was in imitation of the simple four-part harmonisations of the new metrical psalm melodies coming from France and from Jean Calvin’s Geneva.
Wode tells us that ‘the said David he was not earnest; bot I being com to this toune to remaine, I wes ever requeisting and solisting till thay were all set’. In fact two of the psalms (including Psalm 128 on this recording) were harmonised and copied by John Buchan when he borrowed the partbooks, to the displeasure of Wode, as he himself records. Wode also commissioned or obtained settings of the major canticles, some hymns and prayers and further items such as the Ten Commandments from other composers active in Scotland: Andro Blackhall, Andro Kemp and John Angus. To accommodate the larger-scale pieces Wode added a fifth partbook and then proceeded to copy a second set, the purpose of which is not clear.
The original destination of the partbooks is also not clear: they may have been intended for use in the Chapel Royal or for domestic use at court or in other large private houses. The reformed Scottish church largely took Genevan services as its model for worship and so discouraged all but simple unaccompanied psalm singing. However, the tide did not turn right away and there were experienced singers and musicians in the Chapel Royal and elsewhere who would have welcomed harmonised
psalms and canticles. In the event the partbooks seem to have remained with Wode, though their music could well have been copied and disseminated for use elsewhere. He proceeded to use the remaining pages to build up an anthology of polyphonic music from a variety of sources. As he says in one of his annotations, he was afraid that ‘musike sall pereishe in this land alutterlye’ and so he set out to preserve as much as he could of it, whether it was pre-Reformation Latin motets by Scottish, English and continental composers, popular religious songs, anthems setting English texts, secular songs or instrumental dance music.
Recording Wode’s Psalter
Thomas Wode was determined to record and preserve as much as he could of the music of his time, whether composed by Scots or by English and continental composers known in Scotland. As a result his collection, performed here by The Dunedin Consort and Fretwork, provides a unique insight into musical life in Scotland in the second half of the sixteenth century.
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David Miller – lute
Ecco doro – Arcadelt
In Nomine I – Tallis
Psalm 20 – Peebles
Judge and Revenge – Blackhall
Psalm 124 – Peebles