Friday, October 10, 2014

Henry VIII's Musical Spy (and Double Agent)

From Alamire, directed by David Skinner, comes this new release of Tudor church music with a connection to the White Rose of York:

One of the most magnificent musical treasures in the British Library is a sumptuously illuminated choir book given the shelf-mark Royal MS 8.g.vii. It is magnificent for several reasons, not least its beauty and contents, but also its origin, history, and ultimate destination. The book was devised and assembled in the finest scriptorium of all of Europe in the early sixteenth century: the workshop of Petrus Alamire (c. 1470-1536). Alamire (aka Peter van den Hoven), was not only a brilliant illuminator and music scribe, he was also a noted musician and composer in his own right.

But there were many interests of Petrus Alamire: the merchant, the mining engineer, and, most famously, the diplomat and spy. Musicians of Alamire’s popularity and talent were often widely travelled, frequently visiting the various courts of Europe; such a career was a perfect cover for sensitive political and diplomatic exchanges. Between 1515 and 1518 a number of letters survive which show that Alamire acted as a spy for Henry VIII against Richard de la Pole, last member of the House of York who openly sought claim to the English throne. Pole in turn, hired Alamire as a counter-spy against Henry VIII.

This so-called ‘Spy’s Choirbook’ contains some of the finest music of Continental Europe from the early sixteenth century by such noted composers as Heinrich Isaac, Petrus de la Rue and Josquin Desprez. Most of the works have not been performed in modern times, and this is the first recording dedicated to this most interesting of musical manuscripts from the Alamire scriptorium.

Hannah Furness highlights the two-disc CD set for The Telegraph:

Choral music not heard since the time of Henry VIII has been brought to life for the first time in 500 years.

The manuscript, a book of 34 religious songs, was given to Henry VIII as a lavish gift from a French diplomat in his early reign.
Containing songs referencing Henry and his then-bride Catherine of Aragon, it is considered the most "luxurious" surviving diplomatic gift of its kind.
It remained in the Royal Collection after the king's death, and was later given to the nation by George II where it has remained in the vaults of the British Library ever since.
Dr David Skinner, a Cambridge fellow, has now examined the manuscript to bring the music back to life with ensemble choir featuring nine singers and period instruments. . . .

Dr Skinner said the whole score "has certainly never been performed live in its entirety before", adding: "I think that our version is pretty close to what might have been heard in around 1520."

The entire collection has now been recorded, and will be available for sale under the name The Spy's Choirbook from October 1. (October 14 in the U.S.A.)

Petrus Alamire was a double agent and also informed on Henry VIII to Richard de la Pole. Henry found out and Alamire stayed away from England!

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