Did We Make It?

Some excerpts from the talk givenJohn opened his talk by saying that to produce music from the time of the Declaration of Arbroath was ‘quite a challenge ... we don’t have recordings, of course, and we don’t have many manuscripts either, but we’ve got quite enough for us to take this journey’. Arbroath Abbey was dedicated to Thomas a Beckett. We don’t have any music about his murder, but we do have a lament for his exile, preserved in a Scottish manuscript, the St Andrew’s Manuscript, dating from around 1230. by John Purser

 in rama ms small

Few of us watching are likely to have been able to make much music from this, but John was considerate enough to show us his transcription, pointing out the difficulties involved in deducing the scribe’s intentions regarding the rhythm of his music.

in rama

The text reads ”In Rama the English Rachel weeps, for a descendant christian Herod has covered her in ignominy. Behold, her first-born, the Joseph of Canterbury is exiled to the Egypt of France” (Thomas a Beckett was exiled in Sens between 1162 and 1165). John then played us a performance of this music, and proposed that we ‘get to it’ and produce a performance accompanied by smallpipes. Not so unlikely as you might think - John later included a performance of the ‘Os Mutorum’ which appears in the late 13th century Inchcolm Antiphoner* with accompaniment by Barnaby Brown playing the triple-pipes .
A personal favourite of your editor, from the items John introduced, was this signature music by Bishop Bentham: ‘May Walter, the writer of this book be blessed’ from the St Andrews Manuscript; with his (self?) Portrait:

bishop b

It seems extraordinary to me that not only do we have these manuscripts from eight hundred years ago, but that we have people like John who have learnt to understand them and to re-create them, however disputable the results may be. I found his talk an eye-opening journey through a very different musical world.

*Incholm is a small island in the Firth of Forth not far from the three Forth bridges