Page 3, 26th October 1951

26th October 1951
Page 3
Page 3, 26th October 1951 — MUSICAL PRISONER
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Locations: Lisbon, London, Rome, New York

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MUSICAL PRISONER

By HILDA M. KIDD

WHEN a dog-eared volume of manuscript recently came up for auction at g London sale-room, no one imagined that it would bring new light on one of the most remarkable Catholic .recusants of Elizabethan times.

Francis Tregian, the Cornishman who suffered exile from Reformation England and later imprisonment rather than renounce his. faith, was already known as the compiler of the famous Fitzwilliam 'Virginal Book of Tudor keyboard music.

Today, he is revealed as the scribe of a hitherto unknown collection of English music, composed and pleyed in Shakespeare's time. He wrote down all thc pieces as a distraction while in the Fleet Prison. and it was thus through his hardships ae a recusant that an important part of Britain's heritage in music has been preserved for posterity.

* *

THE story begins in the spring of last year, when the Hum Court Library, belonging to the Earl of Malmeshury, was dispersed by public auction at Christie's. Among the few manuscripts was one described in the catalogue as ' Manuscript score of various Italian composers, carefully written on nearly 1,000 pages, thick folio, late 17th century."

It was sold for a few pounds.

On later examination the volume turned out to he a collection of madrigals and instrumental pieces by English and Continental cos-nposers of the 16th and early 17th centuries.

When shortly. afterwards ecquired by the British Museum, it was studied in detail by Dr. Bertram Schofield, Deputy Keeper of Manuscript, and by Mr. Thurston Dart, famous player of the harpsichord, and Lecturer in Music at Cambridge University.

Though all the pages arc cropped at the edges, and many of the marginal notes have been mutilated, the musical text is fortunately preserved and perfectly legible, with scarcely no fading of the ink.

Altogether, there are twelve hundred pieces of' music in the collection, and about a fifth of them have never appeared in any previous anthology. fhey have been rescued from the past by mere chance.

It et hoped to publish examples of the newly-discovered madrigals and pieces for the viol and other instruments of Elizabethan times in one of the early volumes of " Musica Britannica," the encylopaedia of British music now being published volume by volume.

* er AS Dr. Schofield and Mr. Dart went through the pages, they were struck by the characteristic handwriting. Could it, they asked themselves, be another work by Tregian?

Direct comparison with the handwriting of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book established beyond all doubt that this was the case. The two hands are identical, even down to minute. details of erasure and marginal signs. But this was not the end of his romance in research.

Dr. Schofield got a "hunch " that a manuscript of music which had been in the New York Public Library for some time might also be a Tregian. He asked the New York Librarian to send over some photosat copies of sample pages. This was done, and Dr. Schofield was setisfied at a glance that the previously unknown scribe of the New York volume was, in fact, Tregian.

So it has now been established that three volumes of Elizabethan music, containing in all at least two thousand pieces. were compiled by Francis Tregian, probably all of it while he was in the Fleet Prison, where he died in 1619.

WHAT is known of this recusant to whom we owe so much for preserving the music of his time?

He was one of the eighteen children of the more famous Catholic exile of the same name who died in Lisbon in 1608.

Young Francis entered the famous Catholic College at Douai, and later was Chamberlain to Cardinal Allen in Rome, until the Cardinal's death in 1594. He returned to England to claim his father's lands in Cornwall.

But in 1608 he was charged with recusancy, convicted and sent to the Fleet Prison. For the next eleven years until his death, he gathered around him music from many sources and copied his favourite pieces with loving care.

. It was not merely that he was trying to drive away the monotony of confinement within four walls. He was a keen critic of music and a music-maker himself. In the recentlydiscovered volume we come across a pair of madrigals of his own composition.

On his death Tregian owed the warden of the prison about £200 for food and lodging. The warden claimed all his books and menu`scripts, and sold them for what they would fetch. Only by a remarkable stroke of luck have his manuscripts been preserved.




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