THE MASS AND OFFICE OF ST JOHN OF BRIDLINGTON
Editor’s Introductory Note
We now come to the major contribution by Philip Weller, which needs a brief note of introduction. Dr Weller and his associates have been working for some years on late medieval liturgical music, both monophonic and polyphonic, with a particular focus on contextual understanding and historically informed performance – and what that can then reveal to us about the larger purpose and character of what is often recorded only in a condensed, uncontextualised and even fragmentary way in the surviving manuscripts. For this purpose he has collaborated closely with the BInchois Consort, under their director Andrew Kirkman, who we were fortunate enough to have with us during the conference. The Consort gave a concert in the Priory which included music from the Bridlington Office and the Mass of St John. They also performed some excerpts during the Conference to illustrate points about the music. This followed the first of the two talks by Dr Weller which are presented here, as they were given at the time.
The presentation that follows is in three parts:
- The Context
- An introduction to the musical celebration of St John of Bridlington
- The Bridlington Liturgy
The first of these is a piece written later and for a different audience but which sets the scene for the more detailed argument in the Conference talks. This is followed by the commentary on, and explanation of, the musical manuscripts and what they tell us about the Bridlington music. The third, longer talk provides an overview of the character and practice of liturgical music in the period (early 15th century) when the Bridlington MSS. were being created and used, and the purposes this music served in the religious and political life of the time. As Dr Weller has commented: The spoken delivery of the two short lectures printed below speaks for itself, I hope, even in transcription, and I have not sought to alter the tone or style, beyond tidying up and clarifying a few passages along the way and adding one or two explanatory points. It retains the character of the live event, and is I hope very much in the spirit of the whole Bridlington weekend.
There are numerous references, particularly in the first talk, to illustrations mainly drawn from the musical MSS. These are available in the on-line version of this publication.
A The Context
The story of the Bridlington music, both the plainchant Office and the polyphonic Mass, is comprised within a larger history, or, if you prefer, is framed within a wider historical picture – one that is broadly drawn and yet in certain respects (of necessity) technically detailed . It was this wider social and cultural context that called for the music, not the other way around . Devotion and ceremonial demanded appropriate kinds of singing . So too did the regular, ongoing, cyclical liturgy of the church . The music was created not for some abstract aesthetic reason, or for reasons of independent self-expression on the musicians’ part, but rather to cater to the religious demands of the time which validated and enabled it . The need to venerate and honour ‘our’ St John, and to celebrate his feast day(s) with due solemnity (as we are literally reminded at the beginning of the Office, in the antiphon opening first Vespers), dictated the nature and scope of the musical tasks being undertaken . While we today, from our very different perspective, have to approach things from the opposite direction, going backwards from the music as we now have it to reconstruct the world in which it first made sense .
Nothing at all would have happened, obviously enough, without the life, the reported miracles, the developing cult and the eventual canonisation of John de Thweng . But equally, the adoption of his persona and cult by the House of Lancaster promoted his cause and gave it wider horizons – politically and culturally, as well as religiously . Henry Bolingbroke first visited the shrine several times in the 1390s, and may well have schooled the young Henry of Monmouth in devotion to St John, or at least pushed him in that direction . Probably they both ‘adopted’ the once-Prior of Bridlington at this period, through the 1390s and into the 1400s, at the very time of the new developments around his canonisation and the construction of the shrine within the Priory . In any event, Henry V – both as Prince of Wales and later as king – pursued his princely devotions with the determination and heroic energy he put into everything .
Henry saw all the practices and ideals of kingship as somehow standing beneath the great canopy of well-ordered religious observance, and thus under divine authority . If he as monarch was to expect divine approval and support, he had to ensure that his own individual piety and the great official liturgical machine for which he was responsible were both in best working order . Only thus could he in his kingly rôle expect to enjoy the favour of God, His mother the Virgin Mary, and all His saints . Many factors and motifs of his life and attitudes, so far as we can grasp or reconstitute these in any detail, bear witness to this . Art and culture in the service of piety, for both public and private use, was part of the way he saw things . And it is from his espousal of the Bridlington cause – though he naturally also paid due attention to any number of other English saints – that a part of the liturgical and ceremonial impetus towards specifically targeted polyphonic music must have come at this period (the very years which began to see the proliferation of a renewed English musical style of pan-European significance) . The Lancastrians’ musical patronage, and the sophisticated singing chapels they and their supporters maintained, were important, perhaps crucial, for the evolution of English polyphonic composition at this time (the first half of the fifteenth century, but building on developments from the time of Edward III) . This wider musical evolution included the circulation of this newly reinvigorated tradition of singing and composing all through England, and also its massive export to the continent – especially, as in the case of the Missa Quem malignus spiritus, through the creation and wide dissemination of the genre of the integrated cyclic Mass as the cornerstone of a new, soon to be international, sacred polyphonic repertoire .
The making of a plainchant Office, text and music, could have occurred easily enough for any appropriate late-medieval saint or any newly instituted feast, and many such offices were indeed written from as early as the pre-Norman period through to the fifteenth century (Hughes, 1993; Pfaff, 1970 and 2009) . But the enterprise of composing bespoke polyphony – a Mass setting or motets for a chosen occasion or an individual saint, for example – would have represented a different thing entirely . It was a major undertaking, and could be done only by someone with the requisite skills and experience . The task of planning and writing such music was a technically demanding and highly specialised one . It needed real expertise and was the product of a sophisticated type of knowledge, actively developed and accumulated through experience, and exercised by a small group of élite musicians . It also required extensive (and expensive) musical resources in the form of singers, and of course a functioning liturgical machine within which to perform the music in its true and proper ritual setting . This means that there would have needed to be a driving force and an enabling context, as well as sheer money and resources, to get this music written and performed at all .
Hence the context for the Bridlington music, so we have thought, can most realistically be seen as a primarily – though for sure not exclusively – Lancastrian one . The main impetus came at this period from the three Henrys . The devotional, political and consequently also liturgical and musical drive towards celebrating and dignifying St John was sustained and enlarged by them, extending also to those powerful and influential families related to them by ties of kinship and loyalty (Beauchamp, Beaufort etc .) as part of the power-and-loyalty network of the Lancastrian affinity . Such, at least, is the argument underlying my interpretation of the available historical evidence as it has come down to us, and which underpins the Binchois Consort’s research and performance project devoted to this music .
B An Introduction to the Musical Celebration of St John of Bridlington
The purpose of this introductory session this morning is to explain briefly what the Bridlington Office is and how we come to have it . For if one thing is absolutely certain, it’s that we’re very lucky it still exists at all . My work on this was originally part of a larger research and performance project which finished in 2011 . The formal public celebration of the project happened in Nottingham in the spring and early summer of 2010, and some of you may have heard our CD which was produced soon after the concert given by the Binchois Consort in May which helped mark that celebration . This morning we shall take an introductory look at a selection of the different components of the Bridlington music, both monophonic and polyphonic, and then, later on, have a demonstration in sound from the singers out in the foyer . In the afternoon, I’ll aim to develop a wider range of musical points and other historical themes that will take us further inside the music and its different facets . The concert built around the Bridlington music will be given, as you all know, in the Priory this evening .
Fig 1. The Wollaton Antiphonal [Shows slide illustrations of the source]
Fig . 1 shows the state of the original MS . containing the Office, which is its only musical source . It is a large fifteenthcentury Antiphonal which was kept at Wollaton Hall, west of Nottingham, between the Reformation and as recently as Christmas 1924, when it was returned to Wollaton parish church . This is an example of the musical notation, with an illumination, quite traditional, of monks singing from a music book placed on a stand or lectern: the illumination is painted within the capital letter ‘C’ at the start of the psalm Cantate Domino (‘Sing unto the Lord a new song’), which is Ps . 97 in the Vulgate numbering .
As I just said, this MS . is the only reason we have the Bridlington Office at all . It is a rhymed office, which is to say that most of its textual components are written in rhymed verse, articulated in conventional syllabic and accentual metres as most medieval Latin verse was . What is an Office anyway? Well – the liturgical term ‘office’ (Lat. officium) is used to refer to the canonical hours as adapted, variously, for monastic and for secular use . The Office represents in liturgical form the Church’s cycle of daily prayer, with the singing of psalms and canticles and other items (hymns, antiphons, responds and so on) in various sequences and combinations) . It formed the basis of the daily round of services not just in monasteries but also in the secular world – in large churches and secular cathedrals, yes, but also in a parish context and for personal devotions .
The main components are Matins, Lauds, Vespers . The ones in the middle of the day (Prime, Terce, Sext, None) would not normally be included in a musical setting of the Office for a special designated feast or saint . They were sung in a standard form as Compline generally was, too . Matins, Lauds and Vespers are the canonical hours for which music in plainchant was mainly written and sung for special days (the Anglican equivalents of these would be Matins and Evensong) . But the custom grew up of performing Vespers twice for important feasts and particular saints, once on the vigil (eve) and once on the day itself – which for the Bridlington Office is on 10October – and in due course I’m hoping to produce versions of the office hymns with organ accompaniment which Bridlington Priory will be able to use in the future in their services, to mark the festival .
In other words, in these types of MSS . (the Antiphonal with all the special bits of music, and the liturgically much more complete but musically unnotated Breviary) we’ve got a layout and a structure for the offices of Matins, Lauds and Vespers – everything that is not the Mass, in fact, but it’s still very much the liturgy of the church . Perhaps we’re not so used to this kind of thing today, either in Roman Catholicism or in Anglicanism . The Office liturgy isn’t primarily for personal use, but was flexible and open-ended, and certainly could be used for private devotion, using the silent or the spoken word, perhaps just quietly voiced under the breath – probably not with music, though of course one never knows . (The familiar chants, at least – the Pater noster, the Te Deum, the better-known hymns and antiphons, and especially the Marian antiphons – were very likely known and sung by everybody, by lay people and clerics alike, even if much of their devotions might have been recited rather than sung .) The Book of Hours, the most famous type of medieval book, is in effect rather like a compact personal prayer book containing a selection of texts extracted from the larger, more formal liturgical volumes such as the Antiphonal and Breviary, and was used for daily prayer following the routine pattern or cursus of the repeating, cyclic liturgy and the ongoing progress of the church calendar (it is in effect the model for all later personal prayer books) .
Mostly, you get rhymed offices appearing in textual – that’s to say, text-only – sources, without music . It was very interesting hearing Rob Lutton talk briefly about Richard Scrope just now, because I’ve discovered that there’s a tiny fragment of a rhymed office for Richard Scrope, the energetic Archbishop of York who was executed by Henry IV in 1405, in a MS . I think in Cologne . It’s clear that rhymed offices were very often written for would-be saints or holy men and women who were not yet canonised . They might be locally venerated, their cult locally nurtured and promoted, but they had not yet had all the investigative and bureaucratic things done by the Church . Formal canonisation which we’ve already heard a lot about today was paralleled by a popular process of veneration which might or might not take any account of what was going on officially . That for example happened with Henry VI, who was ultimately of course never canonised at all .
One idea I’ve had about this – Rob Lutton mentioned just now that interest gradually waned in the cult of John of Bridlington, which I think is very clearly the case, – that is pretty much in agreement with what he was saying, is that this waning may well have been in part because they (i .e . the Tudors, after 1485) were trying very hard to get Henry VI canonised – that’s one distinct possibility . It would also put the theoretical status of John de Thweng as an adoptive or quasi-Lancastrian saint in an even stronger perspective, because Henry VI was taken by the Tudors to be an exemplum, a Lancastrian precursor and source of royal legitimacy that was obviously really important for them, a figure who in some sense had legitimised their coming to power and given them the added status of having a well-behaved, pious and potentially sainted king among their dynasty .
The MS . containing the Bridlington Office dates from around 1430, and has been in the possession not of a great library but of a humble parish church since 1459 . As I said at the beginning of the session, it had a long excursus staying in Wollaton Hall, where it was housed for safe keeping at the Reformation, but has been back in the hands of St Leonard’s, Wollaton since Christmas, 1924 (though it is in fact now physically kept in the University Library at Nottingham) . Has anyone here maybe heard of the Ranworth Antiphoner – that’s another famous survival, in Norfolk in the middle of the Broads? This book is if anything even more intact than Wollaton because it has the complete Becket Office which was physically cut out from Wollaton when Henry VIII suppressed the feast . The histories and circumstances of these two books are remarkably similar . We’ve tried to marry up or at least compare the two in certain respects, as volumes of similar type, since they have at the moment no-one doing a project on Ranworth – it’s good to compare them as examples of large, elaborate service books that were being housed and used in very ‘normal’ parish church circumstances in the fifteenth century . They show us a glimpse of how seriously, even locally, the question of shared observance – the dignity of religion and the structure of worship at parish level – was really taken .
To our minds today, no doubt, this seems a slightly odd situation, but that is in fact how these things were actually done in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, before the Protestant reform . It makes one think about how many such beautiful handwritten liturgical volumes were around in England in the Catholic late-medieval period . It would have run into several thousands . Some people have tried to estimate the possible numbers, calculating on the basis of 6,000-plus parish churches with at least a high altar and some kind of Marian or Lady Chapel altar (many parish churches had more than this), and some 1,200 – 1,500 larger foundations with multiple altars and service books .
But more important than the actual numbers (it seems to me) is the simple recognition that such volumes were not by any means the sole province of the wealthy patron from the magnate or gentry class or the richly endowed, élite institution . They were used – valued, loved, as well as consulted – by many, and many of the chants themselves were known and loved, too . Chaucer even tells us about children in class learning the Alma Redemptoris mater chant from an antiphonal: He Alma Redemptoris herdë synge/As children lernëd hire Antiphonere, (‘Prioress’s Tale’, lines 518-19; the whole passage of the Alma Redemptoris story is contained within the section ll . 516 – 655) . Anyway, now we must make our way back to Wollaton .
[He shows a sequence of slides and comments on them]
Fig 2. Sir Richard Willoughby
First, then, Richard Willoughby . This is his brass at Wollaton Church . He is the man who probably was directly responsible for the service book coming to Wollaton to the parish church . He was lord of the manor, living at the hall, and also the friend and executor of the man who owned the Antiphonal in the first place – Sir Thomas Chaworth (d . 1459), a very prosperous and eminent member of the East Midlands gentry . Chaworth was part of the Lancastrian affinity, related to the house of Lancaster, and a staunch supporter of Henry V and Henry VI . He also had a very significant parliamentary career, and there is a good online entry for him, in his capacity as a politician, within the History of Parliament website. 1
Chaworth must have ordered the Antiphonal himself, ca . 1430, and it was already at the church by 1459 . (Richard Willoughby, the executor of Chaworth’s will, as well as lord of the manor of Wollaton and chief patron and benefactor of the church, died in 1471 – his descendence and patrimony then became difficult, obscured by complicated family relations . But the Antiphonal remained at Wollaton and survived down the centuries, kept safely in the Hall through the years of the most hostile and dangerous part of the English Reform in the mid-to-late sixteenth century .
Fig 3. The Manuscript – The ‘Wollaton Antiphonal’: Nottingham, University Library, MS. 250 (owned by St Leonard’s Church, Wollaton)
This is the beginning of the Wollaton volume . You can see how damaged it is at the extremities of its vellum leaves – now happily conserved – from the pages for Advent . This sequence of pages at the beginning of the Antiphonal is part of the Temporale i .e . the everyday office texts and chants going by the weekly and monthly calendar (based on the order of Sundays and the relative locations of Christmas and Easter), as opposed to the Sanctorale which provides for the individual saints’ feast days on specific, fixed dates .
The Antiphonal is at root a standard type of Sarum (Salisbury) liturgical book, which is how it was first made . Part of its fascination lies precisely in the way it first originated and was then adapted and added to over the years . And so, while it contains a core of Roman observance, as most western liturgical rites did (as adopted, to some extent reorganised and reformulated by the emergent Rite of Salisbury in the twelfth and early thirteenth century), in practice, by the later middle ages, you get all sorts of regional and other types of distinctive variations . As in the case of Wollaton, these can provide very useful information on the provenance of the MS . in question – it may relate to different rites, to the diocese, to individual churches, to special liturgical customs of one kind or 5 Go to http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/ and put into the search box: Chaworth, Sir Thomas. Also try the Oxford DNB website: http://www.oxforddnb.com/ this time putting in: Chaworth and then selecting Chaworth, Sir Thomas (IV) another, or even to individuals and local patrons, as well as to its subsequent use when it shows local, even personal additions .
[Points to the ST JOHN OF BRIDLINGTON reference in the Calendar]
So this book, produced in East Anglia, is in its origins essentially a Sarum volume, based fairly and squarely on the use of Salisbury, and then adapted for York use . Sir Thomas Chaworth must initially have ordered a standard ‘off the shelf’ Antiphonal of the normal i .e . regular Sarum type, therefore . It wasn’t initially a bespoke volume, it was customised and given York feasts, and also, later on, those of interest to the Willoughby family, once it went to the parish church . So here [showing handwritten marginalia and family additions within the Calendar] you’ve got lots of ‘obits’ i .e . commemorative celebrations for deceased members of the family . The revised Antiphonal was made to follow not only the use of York, – in which diocese Nottingham was, Wollaton as well, – but also served in the customary way the religious purposes of the lord of the manor and his family . This book was evidently in regular use [as a working parish church volume] from the third quarter of the fifteenth century onwards, and bears many marks of that use .
Fig 4. Layout of the pages
This shows the two columns, text in black and instructions in red (rubrics), and you can see the degree of ornamentation, not on every page, certainly, but in many places . There are beautiful ornamental borders located with artful spacing within the wide margins . Other than this, basically you have two types of decoration: heraldry, which proclaims the owners and patrons, and you also have the traditional illuminated initials which mark the beginnings of texts for certain important feasts . The format is big . It’s a large-scale and very copious book, and it’s thought – probably this is fairly obvious – that it was a real luxury object, originally purchased for Sir Thomas Chaworth’s private chapel at Wiverton (east and a little south of Nottingham), and that it was perhaps kept on public display in the chapel on a lectern as a prestige object . As with any religious object of this kind it was probably emblematic as well as functional – we don’t have any real evidence for this apart from the book itself and our intriguing, if patchy, knowledge of Chaworth, but it seems very likely . The book said something, symbolically, about his status, no doubt also about his taste, and certainly about his piety . This object of devotion would have been part of his – inherited and chosen – aristocratic identity as displayed to the world . This MS, like others in his collection, was designed and crafted at the highest possible (and doubtless most expensive) level of elegance and refinement . Its artistic quality ennobled the sense of its religious dignity and contents, as a repository of the sacred texts .
Fig 5. The Bridlington Office as an addendum to the Antiphonal
The Wollaton Antiphonal however had this important section added to it, as a self-contained addendum . So it’s important to remember that the Office of St John of Bridlington was not part of the original scheme for the volume . We don’t know for sure exactly when it was added, written as it is in a type of music notation made to resemble as closely as possible, in a slightly rougher hand, the original writing style – the scribe would have had to conform his writing and page-style quite consciously to the layout that was already there . So the result is that these music folios – no illumination on these, unfortunately, we have to get our images of John de Thwenge from elsewhere – are all our evidence . Here is an office hymn, for example, with the first verse underlaid to the melody and all the other verses appended . We’re going to sing an office hymn shortly in praise of St John of Bridlington .
[He sings the melody for the Bridlington hymn which is in fact a familiar borrowed chant, the famous Pange lingua, which is the tune given in the Antiphonal] . So what they often did (as here) was to take a well-known melody and underlay it with new text, exactly as you get in Victorian or modern hymn books with alternative tunes or else new tunes set to existing texts .
Fig 6. The responsory Quem malignus spiritus
That is the melody you’ll be hearing on which the Mass for St John of Bridlington is based . [Sings the opening of the ‘Quem malignus’ melody] It’s a responsory at Matins, with a substantial repeated segment (repetendum), and you’ll hear it later on this morning out in the foyer, and again in the concert this evening . Matins is the night office, usually sung in the early hours of the morning, notionally just before dawn . But the Office as a whole began on the previous evening, at the ‘vigil’ or anticipatory service of first Vespers . So the first musical items were the antiphons to the Vespers psalms and going on, through the service, to the Magnificat . Here to start with [showing another slide, with the beginning of the Office] you can see the opening of first Vespers, which invites the whole congregation to join in the celebration: Johannis solemnitas digne celebremur, and I’ll briefly read out the translation of the opening line: ‘ Let the solemn feast of John be worthily celebrated’ . That’s a typical formulaic introduction to begin the solemnities of the feast, which would have included 24 hours’ worth of Office chant at the appropriate services, as well as a high Mass and maybe also a votive mass or masses (especially if there were pilgrims or visiting dignitaries to cater for) .
The other thing you need to remember about rhymed offices – texts in verse written specially for particular saints or feasts, not part of the traditional, established scheme – is that they often go (obviously in summary fashion) through the narrative of the saint’s life . This approach in a sense might be said to have recorded the reasons for their sanctity and so give (in effect) the spiritual keynote of their life by memorialising, and bringing forward into consciousness, its key narrative moments and significant episodes . So the offices of these late medieval saints – and also some earlier ones – were designed to give the reasons for their sanctity and to outline the story of their approved vita, in its sacred and saintly aspect . Thus they had an explicatory and indeed justificatory function, over and above the normal liturgical task of veneration, thanksgiving, intercession, praise and so on .
So we have this group of pages that was stitched on to the back of the volume, at the end of the whole Antiphonal . They had existed undoubtedly as a separate bundle of vellum leaves, a kind of separate fascicle in the first instance, and were then sewn into the book at the very end, after everything else (and hence out of liturgical order) . Exactly the same thing happened at Ranworth, where the office of their patron saint, St . Helen, was also stitched into the already completed volume at the end, out of order . We maybe need to reflect, briefly, about how these extras and additions got into circulation and were disseminated . In such cases you could probably have gone down to the local liturgical copyshop – this would very likely have been in a monastery or priory, – and maybe bought off the shelf (or perhaps specially ordered) copies of offices of particular saints . Actually we know very little about this process in any real detail, but it must have existed and was very likely the main way specific chants for new feasts were disseminated and so made available to a variety of churches, to other patrons or enthusiasts .
What was necessary in order to get an office for a particular saint was an exemplar (copy text), a scribe working in a scriptorium who knew music notation as well as Latin (whose task it was to do the actual writing), and a supply of paper or more often parchment or vellum that could be ruled and inked and used to block in and write out the relevant office, both text and music . These tasks could all have been undertaken in one of the larger and more learned monasteries, or else in a well-equipped commercial scriptorium, with professional scribes and manuscript makers, in one of the larger urban centres – London, Norwich, Bristol, York, Coventry and so on .
How many such copies of offices once existed, we can hardly expect to know, but those very few which we do have are precious survivals . They must often, I suppose, have survived as a result of having been added to bigger, more permanent volumes, as in the case of the Bridlington Office, though a few separate fascicles do survive . Whenever a new Antiphonal was specifically commissioned, it could incorporate music for all the most recent saints, as desired by the purchaser(s) . But any ‘standard’ or already old Antiphonal would have had to have new chant offices added specially, typically in fascicle format . (The case of the elaborate noted breviary at Hereford Cathedral is instructive: it contains an office for St Ethelbert (d . 794, whose shrine was in the Cathedral), in its proper place within the volume, but no office – not even as an addendum, – for the much later St Thomas of Hereford (ca . 1218 – 1282; cd . 1320), whose death and canonisation came well after the completion of the copying of the Breviary .)
Now, I think we need to go and hear some of the most interesting elements of the Bridlington music in real sound . The singers should be there by now, and ready .
[At this point, the participants all went to the foyer to hear the Binchois Consort sing the extracts discussed above, and demonstrate some other musical points from the Bridlington repertory ]
C The Bridlington Liturgy
[Passes round an illustration of details of folios from the Lucca Codex, copied arguably in Bruges in the early 1460s, probably for the English Merchant Adventurers’ chapel there.]
As you all know, John of Bridlington lived and worked here, or should we say just a stone’s throw from here, in the Augustinian Priory of St Mary . We have heard from Professor Mayr-Harting this morning a lot of really interesting detail about the life of the priory and of its parishes, both the closer ones and the more outlying ones . And we shall hear more from Dr Weston, too, in his paper, about the daily life of an Augustinian community . This will give us a sense of the kind of life John de Thweng must have led . What I want to look at this afternoon is the way his reputation and renown spread in the early fifteenth century, during the years of his canonisation and afterwards, and in the period of the Lancastrian ascendancy . Specifically, I want to explain a little of how music and liturgy were put in the service of this reputation, and how it functioned within the patronage and the religious observance of princely chapels during the fifteenth century . In a way, this also says something about how music and politics interacted, since the whole field of political activity stood under the aegis of religion and religious thinking in the Middle Ages .
Just to show you that John of Bridlington had a certain European reputation or I suppose quite possibly just with the expatriate community of the English in Bruges, we shall take a very quick look at the Lucca Codex . In one sense it might well have been the music itself which carried the name of St John of Bridlington further afield, for example (say to Trent in N E Italy), so we should probably beware of attributing too much wider European fame to him – except, obviously, among the Augustinians themselves, who would naturally have been very proud of him . This page [on the slide, pointing out the text] shows the words of the Gloria of the Mass with the St John of Bridlington ‘tune’ worked through it . The musical notation also has ‘tacet’ i .e . instructions to the performers not to sing in the domine fili unigenite section . [He goes on with other comments, showing the visual layout of the music and pointing out how singers would have taken instructions from the page]
My purpose in showing you these examples is (a) to indicate very simply what the music actually looked like and (b) to demonstrate that it’s mostly just through continental sources that we have a lot of English music of the period . There’s very little surviving in native English sources because they were more or less all destroyed at the Reformation, though as luck would have it, it so happens that there is a rare survival of an English source for the Bridlington Mass, now in the Cambridge University Library, rather scruffy but extremely useful and significant . There are nevertheless quite a lot of binding fragments that survive from the fifteenth century, that is to say bits of parchment with notation on that were cut out of existing choirbook MSS . once they were no longer needed and used to stuff the covers of leather-bound books or as paste-downs glued inside the outside boards of new bindings . That was very common . And one of the things I do with the Consort is to reconstruct some of these pieces from what happens to have survived, from these rescued polyphonic fragments; you’ll hear two of them tonight, one of them a first performance . So these are fragments from which you can sometimes reconstruct whole pieces, or missing parts of pieces . But as I said, much English music [of this time] comes only from continental sources which shows how much and how widely English music travelled . Indeed it has sometimes been said that this was the last time until the Beatles, in the 1960s, that English music was genuinely at the European cutting edge… This is wittily, but on the whole pretty truthfully observed . So that shows the kind of material we’re often working with, why it’s pretty difficult to evaluate properly, and how you have to work quite hard to bring it fully into the larger historical picture, give it a meaningful context, and bring it sympathetically to performance .
[Shows a picture of a page of chant for Vespers of St John of Bridlington in the Wollaton Antiphonal]
All right, well, now I’ll teach you how to read it . Antiphonals always had music, that’s what they were for; breviaries were larger, with much more liturgical detail, and might be with music or without . These are complicated MSS . to read, they’re specialised . Here for example is the word ‘Magnificat’ – that more or less marks the end of Vespers, the Magnificat is one of the final items . It’s certainly the last big item, whatever might be added on at the end . You have here the musical formula – what we would call the ‘recitational chant’ – for performing the Magnificat, but in very, very compressed form . It’s a kind of musical cue, or a shorthand reference . You have to unpack that, melodically speaking, and underlay it with the regular Magnificat text . (To give you an idea: Anglican chants, too, are in effect recitational formulae, using a harmonic as well as a melodic pattern, rather than the monophonic modal patterns that exist in the traditional Latin plainchant repertory .) So there’s a lot of music and a lot of words, many of them expressed in abbreviated or compressed ways for people who knew what they were doing, mainly either priests or deacons or professional singing men . In principle, any priest would be trained to read plainchant and use liturgical books, that was part of his job, one of the obligatory clerical tasks . The chant was in those days – indeed throughout the middle ages, really – an absolutely central and non-negotiable part of the Church, in more or less every dimension of its existence except perhaps for hermits and desert fathers – and even they undoubtedly sang their songs to the Lord, as we know St Francis did . But I’m digressing . We need to return to the formal liturgical singing of the Latin West to which fifteenth-century musicians, both chant singers and polyphonists, were heirs . Now I’m going to bring you to the paradox of the public-private nature of all this vast repertory of sacred music as it was sung in medieval church spaces .
The music that we’re doing in the concert is not just a sequence of pieces arbitrarily grouped into a programme in terms of their purely musical character but rather a ritual action, an officium in the broader sense . Of course it’s obviously a concert, not a true celebration, but the way we’ve organised it gives you a meaningful representation of at least some of the most important elements of the musical unfolding of Mass, as it exists in the full and proper sense of a sacred liturgical enactment .
This type of action occupies or indeed creates a public space wherever it’s performed, even in a small church or a designated princely chapel . It radiates through and coheres in physical space, creating a structure in sound, a ‘habitable’ structure almost, in a psychological or spiritual way . Sometimes the venue might be really small-scale, intimate even, as in a side chapel or a little oratory perhaps . At others, it might be out in the open, in the main part of the church: in the choir (chancel) or below the screen, or at some other major and easily visible altar, but the sound and singing of Mass make of it a public and ‘projected’ event through the very fact of being sung . Singing resounds – it has an acoustic bloom within a church or chapel acoustic, and is transmitted both temporally and also spatially through this type of environment . As a result, the nature of sung liturgy takes on a very special character . The whole ‘performed structure’ of Mass is something that is, if you like, visually and acoustically open to its own surrounding social space, yes, within the church, but is also theologically open to the universe – in the sphere of earthbound human perception, singing and the broader acoustic effect of sung performances make this point beautifully and graphically yet also simply, without fuss .
For example, John Wardle showed us the stained glass window at Warwick, which is set in what is a princely funerary chapel as well as a lady chapel with a dedication to Our Lady of the Assumption but it’s still in principle a public space . Acoustically, it certainly is . And for those not physically admitted into the chapel, they could observe through the grille of the gates at the west end of the chapel, let into the transept wall . And so the idea of witnessing Mass as distant observers in the fifteenth century in no way precludes the idea that such people were an important presence, that they were participants.
Which is to say that they absolutely weren’t debarred – the idea of observing and praying the mass from the outside was very much accepted then . Their presence and attention were sort of ‘added on’ to the intrinsic power of the Mass ritual, as performed . Their personal intentions contributed, through the private medium of interior devotion and prayer, a new layer to the ritual and theological action . They helped the efficacy, power and intentionality of Mass as an event . It was called ‘praying the Mass’ for a reason, and was one of the commonest forms of religious observance . It involved witnessing the celebration, and adding one’s prayers and devotional thoughts to the liturgy as it unfolded . It involved attentiveness and inwardness, as well as close observation and careful listening . And it involved, too, a sympathetic understanding of what was going on, an entering into the world set forth by the enactments of the liturgy – contemplating, yes, but also inhabiting the drama of the Mass-narrative in its different aspects, both memorial and sacrificial .
It may not be to our taste, quite, and wasn’t the type of liturgy of the early church either . These days, moreover, it generally lacks much support from modern theologians and liturgists, understandably no doubt . But while it was in one sense discriminatory, it was not thought of as ipso facto a refusal of admittance to Mass, – you can observe from afar, enter into the sacred action, and participate vicariously and spiritually – and there are prayers provided for just that group of people (the text known as the Lay Folks’ Mass Book offers the best known historical example) . There are also particular actions within Mass, such as the elevation – of the host, later on also of the chalice – which visually attract the worshipper’s focus of attention, inviting engagement and inward participation . I’m trying to demonstrate how this was, in its time, a perfectly legitimate kind of liturgy, and one which we can appreciate and be involved in vicariously, yet in a sense also very directly, if we wish . And it makes perfect sense of the Mass music we have, both the elaborate chant forms and the polyphonic settings .
For the centuries-old use of music to enhance the diffusion of the power of the Mass was very much part of what musicians were doing . They were creating music – I was discussing this with David Weston this morning – not merely as an adornment and an illustration (though this kind of beauty was obviously very important to them, or they wouldn’t have lavished such care on it) but as a medium through which the Mass can be diffused, acoustically propagated so to speak . It’s for them a kind of spiritual medium – for music isn’t in any straightforward sense material – and although they didn’t understand the scientific theory of resonances, they understood it all very well in a practical, experiential sense which is to say not just as theory but pragmatically, from long experience of church spaces, practical acoustics, liturgy, singing and so on.
So the performance of the Mass – words, chant, polyphony – is transmitted through a medium which by definition can involve more people than if Mass is simply said in an undertone . And it can involve people at different distances, close to and further away . So the whole question of how music diffuses the sanctity of the Mass is very interesting, and gives music a much higher purpose, if you like, than if you see it as an adornment or entertainment or whatever . So they had quite a high-minded view of what they were doing . Erasmus, of course, when it came to the early sixteenth century, didn’t share that view – that was one of the intellectual and theological charges against polyphonic music (and against the vanity of singers) and we know the consequences of that and how music had to be reformed .
The public and private domains are also involved what I’ve just alluded to, that is, the idea of the universality of the Mass and the more specific character given to any individual Mass with the use of a particular intention, – something which is both textually and musically encoded, as in the Missa Quem malignus spiritus, as a kind of advocacy on behalf of (or through the good offices of) John de Thweng . And we don’t have firm proof because no-one wrote about it but it’s very clear to me that the reason we have such a range and variety of polyphonic Masses from this period (the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) is precisely that – namely, that they wanted to create this specificity of intention, to create something that went beyond the mere repetition of the familiar and obligatory texts of the Ordinary, allowing any individual celebration of Mass to be both universal and at the same time tightly focused, individual, thematic, even personalised .
My friend and colleague Andrew Kirkman, who’s conducting tonight, has written very eloquently about these aspects, too, and it’s something we’ve tried to explore in different ways over the years . This musical tradition had existed in a slightly different form much earlier with the creation of Mass Propers, that is to say, the extra bits or insertions into the Mass Ordinary which are specific to a particular saint or feast day . That was an old tradition, going back to the earliest strands and layers of medieval Latin polyphony in twelfth- and early thirteenth-century France, and even earlier . So there’s that key aspect of differentiation – of making the Mass not just as a single type of identical repeating statement, endlessly revived for each new celebration, of a standard formula, but a varied statement, one that is endowed with all the expected common elements but also strong and significant variations, articulating the differences and specificities of the spiritual intention . This might be the particular veneration for, or devotion to a particular saint (within the Sanctorale), or some moment within the liturgical time of the church year – the Latin tempus (time) gives us the important liturgical term Temporale, signifying the dates and sequence of the temporal succession of liturgical feasts and ‘themed’ Sundays through the year .
So in other words a Mass setting dedicated to St John of Bridlington would be of use to those who held a particular veneration for him – it was, in effect, a customised mass, a piece of musical liturgy that had the universality of the standard mass ritual, but also a dedicated function to St John, what in liturgy is called an ‘intention’ . And this musical setting would circulate, which is to say it got sent around in manuscript form, on that basis, to all those chapels or churches that might have had an interest in wanting to sing a mass in his honour, for whatever reason that might be . And the same went, too, for the Bridlington Office, except that many more places would be able to sing its chants than would be able to sing the complex polyphony of the Mass . That’s why I think it’s important to trace, in parallel with our investigations of what the texts and the musical sources say, the historical setting and the way in which that setting articulates a view of what particular families and patrons and other interested parties were seeking to do in the kind of liturgical offerings they made .
We decided to stress the Lancastrian connection – I refer us all here for a moment back to Rob Lutton’s talk – it remains something of an open question) because, even if some aspects are still unclear or at least not fully understood, what we can say with absolute certainty is that what I shall call the heroic princely devotion of Henry V is what cements all that and makes it a real motivational factor – Henry spent a great deal of time and personal drive going on all these pilgrimages (perhaps following in this the lead or the schooling of his father), which he saw as part of the panoply of kingship . Not just a preference, then, or a religious taste, but a duty and an obligation, though in his case undertaken very willingly and I think sincerely, with that amazing energy that he brought to everything he did . Which is to say, that it was partly no doubt personal religious commitment and inclination, partly an integral component of the ‘princely package’ – it was what virtuous and energetic princes did because they were beholden to God and the saints, and that was part of the way in which their position as head of a great nation was expressed .
Saints were not just nice to have, they were necessary . And they played a political and cultural as well as theological and spiritual role . This is quite clear for example in the Council of Constance going on at the same time, where the high-flying cleric Thomas Polton had to give a full account of the English nation – in order to justify her political and ecclesiastical status within the powers of Europe (Italy, France, Spain and Germany) . He had to justify England’s status as a prime European nation not only for its cultural language but also through the longevity of its kings and also that it produced saints, as every respectable, front rank Christian country had to do (Genet, 1984) . That’s another partial answer to the question that Rob Lutton posed this morning as to why there were so many attempts to get more English saints . Any self-respecting nation that was virtuous and pious ought to be able to produce good men and women of holy life – so too, politically, in order to be a first-rate Christian country worth its salt, you had to produce saints . And once you had produced them, you had to get them properly canonised, you had to honour and venerate them .
So then – we have these various distinctions and tensions, public-private and religious-political and so on, which can show us revelatory things if we look closely enough, think a bit laterally, and ask the right kinds of angled questions . Now I just want to say something more before we finish about the relationship of the Mass to the Office which we touched on this morning . The Office might be sung lavishly in well-staffed and well-endowed churches, but was often performed much more modestly, that is, simply recited in plain music – perhaps by a humble cleric or a parish priest – alone, or with a few people assembled . Often there might be a deacon there or an altar boy or something, and sometimes no doubt community of parishioners, in a small group . Perhaps there were more parish-type events than we imagine, especially for saints with a dedicated local following (or indeed genuinely popular figures such as St Katherine, St John the Baptist or others like them) . And the clear evidence of intensive lay participation at the parish level, even on a daily basis, has been shown, time and again, to have been a regular part of any medieval town or village church by Eamon Duffy (1992; 2005) .
On the other hand, solemn Vespers with a full spectrum of music was one of the most splendid and public of all services . It could be ornate and highly elaborated, almost ceremonial in aspect rather than just regular, pious, dutiful observance . But the Office is very open-ended, it can be extremely private – you can say the office on your own, you can’t celebrate Mass on your own, at least not properly . So although this public-private distinction is not set in stone it’s an important way of understanding what music can do in relation to the different types of observance within churches of the largest kind – cathedrals, collegiate churches – and also in more modest parish churches . For me it’s astonishing, at first sight anyway, that books like the Wollaton Antiphonal should have belonged to parish churches . Of course it’s dependent on there being a wealthy patron who wants to buy such a book and give it to the parish, but the fact that it was used and annotated fairly assiduously is very striking . And the idea that these things were not simply élite objects, might cause us to rethink not only the question of public and private – a parish priest reciting the office of St John on his own in Wollaton parish church, for example – which could have been the case, but also the probability of different types of shared recitation by a social group of some sort .
Concerning public and private, and the role of the patron: the last point I want to make is to say a few words about the man who actually ordered and owned the Wollaton Antiphonal, chiefly because you can’t understand the full story without that . This is Sir Thomas Chaworth (d . 1459) whom I mentioned briefly this morning . He was a distant connection of the Lancaster-Plantagenets, he was extremely wealthy, he was MP for Nottinghamshire several times – a very prominent and wealthy man, highly religious, and who had been suspected of Lollard sympathies when he was young . It’s not entirely clear, but it’s generally thought that these were probably serious allegations . And it’s possible at one level to understand his later (1430s) acquisition of the Antiphonal not only as the desire for a prestige religious object, but also perhaps as a kind of statement of orthodoxy . His orthodox credentials were, later on, pretty much impeccable, and he was buried, together with his wife, in Launde Abbey in Leicestershire, also an Augustinian house – so he almost certainly had a special interest in Augustinians . (There might be several reasons for this, not least their recent foundation and implantation in England, and their go-ahead character, tied into the loves of the parishes in their region and their openness to the laity .) He probably was religious in a detailed, liturgical way, as well as just generally pious in the traditional, aristocratic fashion . Overall, we may say – trying to infer, as a superior form of guesswork – that he had specific devotional and religious interests, quite apart from his general high-class piety and his Lancastrian connections and sympathies .
My point is that it seems to me overwhelmingly probable that the Bridlington Office was written out and added to the Antiphonal by him, not by Wollaton parish church or Richard Willoughby . There are various reasons for this: firstly, as I said this morning, there is no other musical material added to the Antiphonal except the Bridlington chant, it’s added at the end as a section on its own, and it seems to me that had it just been a general adaptation of the Wollaton Antiphonal say for York as opposed to Sarum Use, there would inevitably been other additions too . I say that not least because St Anthony, abbot, whose saint’s day was more a York than a Sarum feast – and there was actually a chantry in Wollaton parish church dedicated to St Anthony – was obviously important, and yet still there was no trace of any special music for him .
So it seems to me that, if the additions to the Antiphonal had been made with a view to an adaptation specifically for York Use as a whole, you might at least expect to have had an office for St Anthony and yet there’s no trace of one . That was partly what led us to associate the whole Bridlington cult with the House o] Lancaster in a wider sense . Not only was Chaworth before Agincourt obliged to give archers and men at arms to the war effort, and was clearly part of the Lancastrian affinity as it were, but it seems to me you could even go so far as to say that devotion to John of Bridlington at this time, in 1415, something over a decade after the canonisation and translation, was a kind of gesture of Lancastrian allegiance – it’s a real possibility .So far as performance is concerned, that would make perfect sense with the window at Warwick in the Beauchamp chapel, because one thing we do know – in other words, I’d almost stake my life on it – is that the Bridlington Mass must have been sung in the Beauchamp chapel where there was a rich musical provision, as there was in the Warwick collegiate foundation more generally . The east window in the chapel presents a selection of representative English saints: St Alban, St Thomas Becket, St Winifred, to whose shrine Henry V also made a pilgrimage, and of course St John of Bridlington . That then also fits in with what I said about Thomas Polton and the Council of Constance arguing the call for English saints as a mark of zeal and divine favour . In other words, the Lancastrians in building up not only their dynasty but the reputation of England as a Christian nation needed English saints . We might perhaps agree that they would have thought they needed to get music written for these saints, too .
We’ve heard quite a lot about specifically northern saints and that’s clearly a factor, too, but the recruitment (I use the word advisedly) of English saints was an important thing in a very general sense, on a national scale . So all this continues to point, I think, towards a strong Lancastrian connection, a strong notion that Lancastrian singers – people belonging to Lancastrian chapels – must have been promoting this music first and foremost . I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bridlington Mass hadn’t ultimately come from the English royal chapel in the reign of Henry VI, though we have no way of knowing . Equally, it could well have been a composer in the service of one of his loyal supporters or just possibly someone at one of the fixed chapels like St George’s or St Stephen’s or (more remotely) the recently formed group of singers at the collegiate foundation at Eton, though the dates don’t really fit .
So I’ve said something about the varying degrees of public-private emphasis and how music can articulate this difference between public and private while not making them mutually exclusive or creating rigid boxes . I’ve said something about intentionality, in a prayerful sense and the way in which music can and did contribute to that and why someone would bother to write a Mass specifically with a Bridlington theme woven into it . English musicians incidentally more or less invented this kind of ‘themed Mass’ . It started out, or so it seems, with dedications to the BVM, where you’d get Marian melodies used structurally and interwoven with polyphonic counterpoints all set for the texts of the Ordinary; this compositional practice became widespread from around 1400 – the English were very largely instrumental in creating this type of Mass setting and setting the trend for Europe . This was all pretty much cutting edge in the fifteenth century; it was not conservative . And although we might perceive it these days as being rather solid and traditional and indeed conservative in many ways, it absolutely was not then . That is one reason why the funding of polyphony was so popular and so widespread among the wealthy merchant and aristocratic classes, who acted as patrons either individually or in the form of guilds and confraternities . Such patrons also included high-ranking clerics (who were in effect not just domini but princes, in all but name, in terms of wealth and patronage certainly so) .
So to observe just a little more on this public-private question and the historical frame: I’ve offered you something about the religious and political, I’ve said something about Lancaster-York and the Tudor succession from 1485, I’d like to close with some more visual evidence which we’ll get to at the end, and I’ll comment on more informally . The dynastic theme is clearly important . How you interpret the rising star of Lancaster circa 1400 and what happened to it later on is obviously a much larger question than I can address here . I simply want to make clear that what we see in the mid fifteenth century is probably a continued use of this Mass throughout the 1440s, 50s and into the 60s, the very period when after 1455 the eclipse of Henry VI is occurring and the historical process is leading England towards the accession of Edward IV .
We’re fairly confident that the Antiphonal was written around 1430, it could be a bit earlier, and we’re also fairly confident that it was written in an East Anglian workshop . Chaworth was probably in his forties at that stage, and he must have bought it more or less off the shelf . How much he himself adapted it before it went on to Wollaton we don’t know for sure, but as I have said, there are good grounds for believing that the Bridlington section was added while it was in his care; no doubt quite a number of the small changes to the Calendar were also made at that time . So it had a life with him at Wiverton from about 1430 until his death in 1459, and then went to its long-term home at Wollaton . That leads us to suppose that our basic hypothesis is broadly correct – that the Bridlington Mass is essentially a creation by Lancastrians for their household chapels and for other churches supported (or more formally patronised) by them . So you might imagine it being sung in chapels of the Beauchamp family, the Beaufort family, all the big followers of the Lancastrian network, those who had a staff of singers capable of singing that kind of music and the wherewithal to put on these elaborate kinds of Mass celebration .
Whether or not – and if so how – it might have been performed in Bridlington Priory is an open question (one to which we shall be returning briefly at the end) . You all may well know already that the choir school here opened in 1447; Roger Bowers thinks that it could well have had some input from Henry VI in some shape or other, though it’s not certain, and he’s quite circumspect in what he says . Personally, I don’t think so much caution is really needed . It all hangs together rather well, and seems very plausible and convincing . The exchange between King and Priory in 1447, when more privileges were granted and the choral foundation made official, coincides fairly closely and realistically with the date of 1445, when the St John relics were sent, in the safe hands of Richard Beauchamp, duke of Warwick, directly from Bridlington to Eton in order to enrich Henry VI’s great collection . The king and the Priory were exchanging favours at this period, creating structures which were mutually beneficial . This offering of gifts and according of privileges was very obviously, by the standards of the time and given the circumstances, to their combined advantage .
The 1447 foundation at the Priory was for a Lady Chapel choir of boys with a master of music, and certainly at the beginning would not have had the resources to do anything resembling the Bridlington Mass, and the pattern of voices really doesn’t match either . Nevertheless, adult singers could in principle have been brought in and paid . Here, no doubt, we can only speculate – at a guess, such singers could easily have come from York, or theoretically perhaps from the chapel royal (though it’s not ever recorded that the chapel came up remotely as far as this), and there was a substantial choral foundation for example also at Beverley) .
Equally, we don’t know quite how and where it would have been performed . Tonight it will be sung from what are now the chancel steps, which of course would then have been within the parochial nave . Conventual Masses would sometimes have been sung from the chancel ‘into’ this public space, or would at least have been audible from it, though the nave of course had its own parish altar below the screen . Another public space lay beyond the chancel, around the shrine and the lady chapel and the five altars placed against the east wall – in Lincoln and elsewhere there were special doors to allow the public to bypass the choir in order to reach the retro-choir and shrine area, though in Bridlington it looks as if access to the retro-choir would have been via the north and south aisles, going around the outside of the closed chancel .
There was a big division in monasteries between the high communal liturgy of the monks in the chancel, sung in plainchant, and the more artful polyphony which would have been performed outside the choir in the public spaces of the church – first and foremost in the lady chapel to which lay people had access, and where the boys’ choir was based and sang the daily Lady Mass . Many polyphonic choirs began in this way, in the later fourteenth and especially in the first half of the fifteenth century, in monastic foundations including such places as Ely, Canterbury and Westminster, and of course a host of others (Roger Bowers has written quite extensively about this) . We know for example that the famed Leonel Power (d . 1445) ended his days as master of the lady chapel choir at Canterbury – that was his retirement package, as it were . He would have taught the boys to sing polyphony and no doubt had a few professional singing men he could call on and hire, and perhaps could have drawn on one or two of the monks – there were probably a few men in such a large and eminent monastery who were well trained in polyphony, especially if they had themselves been trained as boys .
It’s quite possible that this would have been the case in Bridlington, too, though we should remember the constraints of the canons’ pastoral and other practical and vocational commitments as Augustinians . They would obviously have sung chant, and doubtless faburden too, but perhaps not very much written polyphony, certainly not if it were complex . So that, I hope, gives you some idea of why and how it might have been professional Lancastrian chapels and other compact, specialised ensembles who would mainly have performed the mass setting .
Nevertheless, it’s not by any means impossible to imagine all the Bridlington music as having been sung actually in Bridlington . The canons could easily have learned the chant office and sung it on a regular basis, – indeed, I find it hard to imagine that they did not – and the polyphony could well have been performed on the relevant feasts (the feast proper, and the translation) by hired singers, as suggested above, maybe brought in from York for example or perhaps, more close at hand, from Beverley . (It is unlikely that a collegiate foundation such as Howden, just down the road, would have enjoyed more elaborate musical provision than Bridlington itself, though for the present we lack information; while the grandiose parish church of Holy Trinity, Hull had many chantry priests and at least a few singing boys in the grammar school, but apparently no evidence of paid, musically trained professional clerks – though there is overall quite a bit of evidence that the many supernumerary priests in the larger parish churches, particularly those hired to staff the chantries, would have had experience in mensural polyphony and polyphonic singing and the relevant vocal skills that went with this .)
So to get back to the dates question, just briefly – we have circa 1430 for the Antiphonal, 1440 or thereabouts for the Mass, the 1440s for Henry VI’s great projects, 1447 for the Bridlington choristers, 1450 as a Jubilee year for the entire Church and the beginning of Henry VI’s great difficulties, 1459 for the death of Chaworth, and the later 1450s and 1460s more generally as a time of crisis and turbulence for Henry VI and his followers – but nevertheless, so far as we can judge, the manuscript sources we have seem to date from precisely this period . I showed you the Trent MSS . for the Mass, and there was also the Lucca Codex from Bruges, and of course the Cambridge source in the University Library, which seems to be from around the same time (the 1460s or 70s) . And so we can see that, during the middle and later decades, written copies of Quem malignus spiritus would have been circulating quite widely not just within England but radiating outwards across mainland Europe as well, very possibly from Bruges via another musically influential place in the north like Cambrai or Tournai or somewhere, but we don’t really know . So the Bridlington Mass was still travelling (and evidently being used) in the 50s and 60s, and it seems to me entirely plausible to suppose that there was no particular interruption in the wider veneration of St John, at least not at this time . What we don’t have, and this seems to be one of the enigmas, is any further information about the singing of the chants and their wider currency – why for example isn’t there another copy of the Bridlington Office with music? Why should such evidence be so rare?
Well actually this is maybe not so very unusual – it’s unsurprising since there is after all no complete musical copy of the office for St Alban, who was a much more widely known and earlier ‘English’ saint (protomartyr Anglorum, in fact), one who moreover had a very rich and eminent abbey dedicated to him, and with a splendid shrine . Much the same goes for other eminent and widely venerated English saints, as well . It seems very clear to me that these copies of individual offices must have existed quite widely but were probably very vulnerable – they may well have been written on loose folded pages (bifolia) and assembled into a kind of libellus (small bundle of folded sheets, like a booklet or a loose gathering), and maybe were often not even bound into any larger book – and so only isolated examples or fragments survive . Andrew Hughes (1993) has heroically studied the surviving sources of English rhymed offices, even though they are so relatively thin on the ground; and some of these were very clearly in the form of individual libelli or of special stitched-in additions to larger liturgical books (as in the case of Wollaton, or indeed of Ranworth which has its unique Office of St Helen) .
So we can still argue, I think, from what has survived, that the musical veneration of John of Bridlington did indeed go on much as before, if perhaps less dramatically, during the middle and later decades of the fifteenth century, and that there was no particular interruption to the observance at this time . There was a continuity, though quite how intensive is not fully clear . The evidence from pilgrimages also tends to confirm this, so far as records of pilgrims (mainly from wills) can be taken as true and representative of the wider ongoing reality . An element of continuity comes also from the fact that, at a technical level, a liturgical feast and its observance, once instituted and properly set up (including the practical details and customs of the musical tradition), took on a regular momentum and would thus tend to be celebrated in more or less the same way year in, year out . This was the function of organised, cyclic liturgy . Such a system generated its own regularities, and its own momentum . Interruptions to a tradition of this kind would not simply arise arbitrarily, out of nothing, unless there was some good reason or event to cause it, or perhaps a catastrophic fall in interest (which would also have needed a cause of some kind) .
My own notion, after having given it quite a lot of thought, is that the aristocratic and royal support helped the Bridlington tradition a great deal, but that when the movement to push for canonisation of Henry VI got underway in the late fifteenth century, after Henry VII’s accession, then interest from these Lancastrian power groups in their devotion to St John probably waned . As we have seen, the question of the push to canonise new English saints was a hot topic throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and it seems quite possible to imagine that cults other than that of the now comfortably settled case of St John now occupied people’s attention .
And so, to begin to draw together my sequence of topics and points: I hope I’ve given you not just a picture of the political and cultural background; I hope, too, that I’ve offered the clear sense of a distinction between public and private and how they might have operated in religious observance and the singing of Mass and Office, while also emphasizing that sacred music as a direct experience, as a pleasing and notably atmospheric diffusion of sound, whether it’s plainchant or polyphony, was not just an arbitrary embellishment for the liturgy but a medium, a way of actually conveying its content and meaning and power, up to a point at least . It was both beautiful and functional, and had an acoustic as well as sacred aura . And it faced both ways – in the direction of heaven, and in that of the earthly realm . Up towards God and all the saints, and radiating outwards on earth, from the point at which the singing happened to be .
Music carried the ritual text and conveyed it right the way through the church, filling the sacred space . In principle this applied to chant, faburden (harmonised chant) and composed polyphony equally . When projected (‘diffused’) in musical form, the text exists in an enhanced, transformed state, and the ethos of sung Mass allows for a further ‘consecration’ of the whole event through music’s enhanced articulation of the sacred texts – if you were in a theological frame of mind, you might even call it a kind of charism .
You’ll hear this evening, beginning with the opening item of the Te Deum, something of this particular kind of parallel harmonisation (faburden) which we’re more or less the first people to try to put into its wider musical context in a concert setting – it’s an unwritten tradition, but there are instructions which survive, so it’s not speculative, – but what we’ve tried to do is to use it as part of a spectrum of different types of singing that would have been deeply familiar then . In effect, we’ve attempted to create a tapestry of different styles . This of course is a good thing for you as an audience, as listeners, but it’s also a bit more realistic in regard to the historical day-to-day musical realities and practices of sung liturgy at that time, and what different types of sounds they would have typically have heard .
So we’ve done this as a way of giving you not only increased tonal and textural contrast and range, creating this variety for you as listeners in a concert setting, but also as a way of showing that music serves – along a sliding scale – as a medium in the full sense of the word . It’s not just aesthetically interesting, but also an articulate and highly differentiated vehicle for sacred text . In other words, as I said just now, the total experience – of word, text and tone – is not merely decorative but is something substantive . It’s functional in a higher sense . So in the context of the performance of Mass it’s spiritual, it’s evanescent, yes, but it fills the building in a very physical and immediate way: this nature of the acoustic experience is important, in its way essential, even .
Naturally, in the full sense, this sound needs to exist conjointly with the sacred action, with all the elements and layers of the liturgy that are not just text and music . Movement and gesture and ritual intention go in parallel with word and sound – and in performance, all this is constantly unfolding: developing, and on the move . The celebration of Mass has a trajectory and a sense of going not just forwards but inwards and upwards . There is always a specific focus and a sense of directed movement, pinpointed and exact, but it is exercised within a richly inflected multisensory environment held in a more or less judicious balance as Mass progresses . The result is something akin to a total liturgical language – one in which all those present in some sense share . And music is the vehicle, the carrying medium, for this, just as liturgical structure and intention are the directing ideas behind this motion .
If you’re a lay observer, praying the Mass, situated at a distance, and you’re remote from the altar, you still get the experience because you’re part of the meaning . Music in a way expands the available liturgical space as it travels through the church, and you’re included in that . Your emotions are engaged and so is your attention, and that’s a crucial part in understanding the ethos of the experience of sung Mass . You may or may not get absolutely everything, in every detail, and anyway some parts of the Mass after the Offertory are meant to be concealed (‘veiled’ by chants and music, in fact, as well as by the priests’ and deacons’ actions and by the general sense of mystery and distance into the presbytery and sanctuary area) . You witness it all from afar but you’re also part of it, enfolded in its sonority, connected aurally and visually as well as devotionally . It is in effect what nowadays people refer to as an immersive environment – a shared social and spatial process conveying a sort of higher, all-involving, cognitive reality . It is an experience that has characteristics of participation and ritual involvement . And in parallel with its ritual-theatrical layout, it is grounded in a deep perceptual immersion that may be all the more intense for being untheorised: simply entered into, accepted for what it is .
This being immersed, acoustically, in music connects you not just to the power (if not always to the every letter) of the sacred texts, but also to the symbolic actions and gestures you are able to observe at a distance . So public and private dimensions do exist, but they’re also transcended . Subject positions and rôles in this type of enactment are all distinct, all clearly differentiated, but the totality is far more than the sum of its parts . All the clear distinctions and the varied individual standpoints are transcended essentially through the power of music, in parallel (or if you like ‘in counterpoint’) with the liturgical action which you can see happening beyond the screen, in front of and around the altar .
Religious and political – I’ve now said enough about that, I suppose, but the rôle of sacred music within political life in the fifteenth century forces us to rethink this kind of relationship in quite a radical way . And to find for example that the liturgy of sacred invocation as a public event, with fully elaborate music and ceremonial in the celebration of Mass, was an integral part of military campaigns still seems to us astonishing . The logistics required to take a whole host of singers and clerics, along with all their books and accoutrements, together with a major invasionary force of armed men and archers, must have been a logistical nightmare – Henry V must really have wanted them there at Harfleur, Rouen, Calais and so on (just as Clarence and Bedford would have their singing men and their chaplains with them while they were fighting or governing or just generally overseeing things in Normandy, and later also in Paris, during the English occupation, until 1435 and its aftermath) . This kind of scenario then offers the intriguing notion that some of the Bridlington music (the Office rather than the Mass) might well have been heard in France at some point, not least since Henry V is said to have ascribed the victory at Agincourt to the combined influence of the two Yorkshire Johns – Beverley and Bridlington, whose saintly protection he must surely have invoked himself, and undoubtedly exhorted others to do as well . If this really was the case, as it seems to have been, then by the standards of the day it is unthinkable that they would not have taken the Bridlington Office with them, ready to sing, and no doubt would have sung Mass in his honour, too – as surely also that of John of Beverley .
The only really persuasive explanation for having all this music and liturgy on campaign is that it was necessary not just as a show of luxury or of princely generosity and magnificentia, and certainly not as aesthetic enjoyment pure and simple, but because good sung liturgy of the highest dignity was necessary to sanction the fighting and so in some sense justify it – as an active means to further the English cause, therefore . The king was sacralised at his coronation and his larger rôle as monarch, as head of the nation and military leader, as well as ruler, was theoretically supported in its divine aspect not just by this crowning and anointing but also by his continuing maintenance of the dignity of the Church and of his own sacred chapel – the great liturgical machine he maintained as in intrinsic part of the royal household . Here again, liturgy and its essential Latin music take on not just a ritual and ceremonial, but a political and diplomatic character . It seems clear that Henry V especially saw sung formal liturgy as a form of active religious and cultural work that was nonnegotiable for a well-ordered princely state, an obligatory part of the panoply of kingship . After him, Henry VI evidently shared these commitments, while also having (in a perhaps more personal way) a pronounced aesthetic liking for such liturgical observance and participating in it .
And so finally, to return to that dynastic theme – I shall still maintain that Lancastrian developments in the first half of the fifteenth century were crucial: not unique, perhaps, and not exclusive, but still the main form of patronage and advocacy for the Bridlington music in a ceremonial and liturgical sense . Lancastrian chapels would have provided a forum for this music to be performed on a regular basis . And that would be as true of the Bridlington Office being sung quietly and discreetly in Sir Thomas Chaworth’s private chapel at Wiverton, as of the Mass being sung in fuller splendour by a skilled polyphonic choir in the service of grander patrons like Beauchamp or Beaufort, or indeed under the patronage of Henry VI himself in one of his foundations . (The Bridlington Mass must, with little doubt, have been sung at Eton and in the Chapel Royal, at the very least, as well as in Warwick – though Eton chapel was not physically completed until shortly before 1480, so that the Mass would initially have been performed in the old parish church which served as the college chapel and the operational base for the singers in the early years .)
We have now some knowledge of the kinds of sounds, and the kinds of texts, that the Mass and Office represented for fifteenth-century listeners . We know something, as well, of the place of such types of singing within contemporary ritual and spiritual practice . And so we can place all the very interesting but finicky individual details of the Bridlington tradition – and all the specific biographical and historical details of the cult, – within this larger liturgical picture . Moreover we have access to the vocal and acoustic sound-world of all this music, to some degree at least . That is one of music’s great advantages, that it has to be performed, however imperfect our modern grasp of its historical pronunciation and vocalisation may be . To experience it at all is – and has to be – a living encounter, with all the risks and rewards that such an encounter brings with it . This makes for a remarkably vivid and direct relationship, within the present, to many aspects of an otherwise remote type of religious experience and culture . The notation in the MSS . is what it is: it is all we have to go on, in the first instance, . Technically and aesthetically we must make of it what we can, musically speaking, with all the interpretive tools and skills at our disposal . What we then have to go on to do is try to imaginatively reconstruct around this recovered sound-world the psychological and devotional stance – the mental and spiritual orientation, if you like – that makes best sense of the music beyond the bare aesthetic facts of its sheer beauty of sound: the lucidity, pliancy, and the varied experiential moments of intensity, stillness and movement that it offers .
The plainsong and polyphony for St John thus have real meaning as expressions of Lancastrian ideals, though their appeal was at the same time also wider and more generally shared than that, with a regional and national significance that went far beyond factions and dynasties . A moment’s reflexion will tell us that the Bridlington Office and Mass must also – obviously – have had special meaning for the Priory itself and the extended local community . This was after all the place where the bond between music, devotional stance, and John de Thweng’s saintly aura (not to mention his hoped-for favour and spiritual influence) was at its closest – the whole raison d’être of a shrine was precisely to be the nodal point between divine and earthly realms, a kind of spiritual hotspot if you like . It was also the earthbound locus of intersection between the general community (including those who came as visitors or pilgrims) and the highly specialised, ordered world of formal liturgy and devotional rites .
The Bridlington music and ritual thus had particular significance here, in the great church on the hill standing above the harbour and the North Sea . But they operated, as all liturgy did, universally . Office and Mass fulfilled their purposes both here and everywhere . Over and above their technical and stylistic features and their aesthetic character as pieces of music, their broader dissemination was certainly intended as far as possible to be wide-ranging and far-reaching, to be shared (that is) with as broad a spectrum as possible of English liturgical communities of many different kinds .
EPILOGUE AND FINAL POINTS: THE BRIDLINGTON MUSIC IN THE PRIORY
Having talked fairly extensively during the Bridlington conference, in often (deliberately) general rather than specific terms, about the various musical possibilities for devotional and liturgical performance in the fifteenth century, a few brief retrospective words are now in order, I think . This is by way of epilogue . And it will serve to consolidate some of the experience of discussion, of the exchange of ideas, and the results of further reflection which came out of the meeting of minds which occurred during the conference .
In particular, I want to clarify just a little the question of the presence of the Bridlington music within the physical space and environment of the Priory itself, during the fifteenth century . This is a tricky question which I opened up and discussed in slightly hedged terms at the time . I hedged my bets chiefly because I was myself uncertain and could hardly see how, in default of specific evidence, we could say anything very clear and concrete on this topic . Understandably, we all wanted – myself very much included – to be able to locate the music securely within the Bridlington precincts and the working life of the Priory . Having now reflected long and hard on this matter, in a slightly discontinuous but very active and determined fashion, I am more confident now in what I think we should feel able to say, or justified in saying .
It seems appropriate, then, to bring a little more light to bear on the status of this music in relation to the larger question of the types of performance envisageable within the Priory . For this there is not really very much useful or enlightening evidence of a direct, quantifiable kind beyond the two (obviously very important) facts of the existence of the Bridlington Breviary and the creation of the boys’ choir for the Lady Chapel in 1447 . But taking stock of other things and other angles can serve to give us a stronger indirect sense of what could have been envisaged, musically, and how we might imagine a plausible scenario for the presence of John of Bridlington’s music within his home institution .
The main factors we can take account of to firm up our position are as follows:
- first, there is the wider question of the Augustinians’ chant tradition itself, their liturgical ethos and practice as expressed through the surviving books containing and transmitting their liturgy in its various stages of development;
- second, there is the Augustinian practice and patronage of polyphony, not just faburden, but also sophisticated and at times even complex composed polyphony;
- third, there is the question of the political and cultural rôle of English saints, particularly at this juncture in the late middle ages, as an index of England’s national and religious status and integrity – as a royal country, strong and righteous, ruled justly under God, and well able to produce saints;
- fourth (this is a topic we have covered quite well, in passing, throughout this study, and will need no special reiteration here): we shall always need to bear in mind the relationship between the secular political world of the state and the institution of the Church, more particularly (in the present instance) the monasteries, not just in terms of wealth, power, and ceremonial but also of shrines and pilgrimages – that is, expressions of popular devotion and ‘honest religiosity’ which depended directly for their frame and content on the Church’s official structures and practices, within the holy places of which many of the greater church buildings were custodians.
First, then, there is the matter of Augustinian observance in general . We can usefully consider not just what the Bridlington canons themselves were capable of, but what they might have thought desirable and attainable on a broader level . In modern historiography Augustinians, perhaps because of their practical outlook, their pastoral vocation and parochial duties, have never quite enjoyed the reputation for music and liturgy that Benedictines and Cistercians and other orders – including the mendicants – have done . (In this, they are maybe something like the Jesuits in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and for broadly similar reasons .) And yet this – mostly unspoken – assumption is quite unjustified . We were all able to learn this from Anna Howard’s paper on the Bridlington Breviary and what it represents in the wider context of surviving Augustinian chant books . On the contrary, the richness of Augustinian practice and the way they sought to shape and control their liturgical resources make the very idea of their having had in any sense a ‘lesser’ tradition than, say, the Benedictines quite obviously false . Among other things, Anna’s paper at the conference made clear the very detailed, self-aware approach they took towards the whole question of the management of their liturgy, its texts and melodies, and thus provided solid grounds for seeing their musical tradition and its practical organisation as having had real importance for them .
Second, we should briefly recall two historical case studies which show liturgical practice at something approaching its richest development in an Augustinian context – one in plainchant (the Feast of St Columba, as celebrated at the Abbey of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth in the mid-thirteenth century); and one with advanced polyphony, as practised at the mother church of Scotland, the eminent Cathedral Priory of St Andrew’s, in Fife, from the 1230s onwards .
And third, the function and cultural positioning of English saints at this historical juncture can be adduced as a strong conditioning factor . Modern (that is, fourteenth- and fifteenth-century) English saints were desired on political as well as religious grounds – for reasons of nationhood, as well as of spirituality and devotion . Thomas Polton’s public oratory at the Council of Constance (1414–1418) made this point with forceful eloquence (Genet, 1984) and was backed up by, for example, the sumptuous solemn celebration of Mass for the Feast of St Thomas Becket (29 December) at the Council on two occasions (Schuler, 1966; Nighman 1997 and 2008) .
Inevitably, when dealing with all the practical details of musical performance in a remote period, much has to be inferred . So much vital information is either missing entirely, or else unclear . Interpretation and inference must go hand in hand, and together will serve to make the result as plausible as it can be . Specific evidence is often lacking . Reliable records – often even the merest indications, such as they are, – tend to be few and far between . As a result we have to create a plausible working model, based on what we do know, in order to sketch in what we don’t . So that despite the unusual – in fact, very rare – survival of two separate and identifiable musical pieces relating directly to a known individual (in the present case, the figure of our slightly obscure English saint, John de Thweng), the great good fortune of this fact of survival really doesn’t mean that we are told anything very much about the wider environment – the human and cultural context, the experiential situation . This we have to recover, bring out, reconstruct . We actually need not just more technical and practical information but a more interpretive, anthropological view . In the manuscript sources the musical notes survive in a stripped back, largely decontextualized fashion, offering a few clues but not much more . We have to probe and contextualise, adopting the role of detective-historians, in order to give the surviving music the human density and cultural thickness it lacks, as well as restoring to it its living sound .
Our approach throughout this study has been to observe that from today’s perspective we are forced to move backwards from the musical notation as it survives in the MSS . in order to reconstruct the world in which the music itself first made sense . The world, that is, in which the music responded directly to the religious, ceremonial and political requirements of the time, to the needs of those who were most immediately involved in its creation and use . This is equivalent to what we would today call the ‘commissioning’ of the musical work . And the ‘commission’ entailed not just placing the order, but seeing to its fashioning precisely so as to meet the (spoken and unspoken) needs of the situation as a whole, not just those of the musicians and their associates .
Much of what I said at the Bridlington weekend aimed to show how singers and their vocal skills fitted into the broader picture of liturgy and ceremonial, and into the devotional landscape of the later middle ages . By extension, the music that existed in places like the greater monastic churches, precisely because they were monastic, needed to serve at the same time the internal spiritual and liturgical needs of the monks, but also all the different types and categories of visitors: visiting noblemen and dignitaries, patrons, ecclesiastical venerables, and of course the pilgrims and crowds of local people who would flock to the shrines, the processions on saints’ days, the Feast of Relics and other days when popular religion came into close contact with the official temples of sanctity .
We can see, then, that any substantial medieval Augustinian house might celebrate the main feast of their home saint ‘in community’ in considerable musical style, singing a special and noticeably elaborate office as part of their normal monastic routine (as at Inchcolm), this office also being integrated no doubt with the obviously much more public event of a popular pilgrimage . It might also in certain cases support the singing, very probably by hired musical specialists, of complex modern polyphony (as at St Andrews) . This offers a plausible basis for situating the Bridlington music firmly within the building and institution of the Priory – the Office as part of the canons’ normal plainchant repertory for their special feasts, and the Mass as an optional part of a more elaborate form of liturgy using specialised performers on designated occasions .
By way of drawing the threads together we can now say, with a fair degree of confidence,
(1) that the Bridlington Office must in all probability have had its origins close to the beginning of the fifteenth century: say around 1401 – 1404, the years of the canonisation and translation of St John;
(2) that it would have found a place and function at the Priory, where it must have been regularly sung (almost certainly in the chancel, doubtless also at the shrine); as we have seen it would also have been used in many other locations as well, by Lancastrian supporters and other communities with an interest in venerating St John, especially in other Augustinian houses .
(3) that the Office would have been (poetically) written and (musically) composed or arranged – wherever this might have taken place (Bridlington is naturally one possibility, without excluding others) – before being copied and distributed to interested parties (people, places, institutions) more or less as a matter of course, just as many such offices for new saints and new feasts regularly were . This, then, though highly significant for us today, looking back retrospectively, was not in any sense an unusual event for the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries .
So we have different levels of music within Bridlington Priory and other similar foundations: (1) the monks’ liturgical chant, following the rhythms, the salvation drama, and the varied, often picturesque calendar of saints of the church’s year, with certain special feasts highlighted within this – the Bridlington feasts being no doubt a pre-eminent case, along with those of the BVM; (2) from 1447, the polyphony of the Lady Chapel choir, with boys’ voices and maybe just two or three men, including their magister, singing a variety of – no doubt for the most part fairly uncomplicated – music, almost all of it for the Blessed Virgin Mary and particularly the daily votive Lady Mass (the one on Saturdays would probably have been celebrated at the high altar, in choir, as would those on all the main Marian feasts); (3) more specialised polyphony for professional singers hired from elsewhere, for the Bridlington feasts (not excluding the possibility of other feasts as well).
All in all, despite the fact that we are very far from knowing the detailed musical and liturgical life of this magnificent – if now sadly truncated – high gothic building, in all its Early English and Decorated splendour, we may fairly say that its stunningly proportioned arcading and varied internal spaces would have resonated with music of real beauty and dignity, just as we sought to recreate in our specially devised concert for the 900th anniversary of its foundation.
1 Go to www.historyofparliamentonline.org and put into the search box: Chaworth, Sir Thomas. Also try the Oxford DNB website: www.oxforddnb.com this time putting in: Chaworth and then selecting Chaworth, Sir Thomas (IV)