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Harmonia Early Music

The Winchester Part Books

An exploration of music from the Winchester Part Books, a important collection of Renaissance madrigals and chansons.

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The Winchester Parts Books are a collection that contain Italian madrigals and French chansons from the 16th Century. They are handsomely bound and are tooled with the English royal coat of arms as would have been recognized during the reign of Elizabeth I. The music was most likely copied and bound in Antwerp and brought over to England sometime during the mid-1660s. The earliest record of the part books places them in the possession of the Winchester College Library at the beginning of the 19th Century.

Who brought them over and for what reason remains a mystery to this day and a matter of conjecture. What we do know is that most of the composers represented in the part books were famous in their day for creating hits.

Of the 107 works in the part books, eighty-seven are in Italian while only sixteen are in French. The composers are recognized to have been from northern Europe and include Orlando di Lasso, Adrianus Tubal, Jacques Arcadelt, and Filippo Azzaiolo, among others who were important. In typical fashion, the madrigal texts express different shades and nuances of love in a variety of settings.

Of the many composers in the collection, only one stands out in number. Hubert Waelrant’s thirty-five works are the most of any composer in the books. From that number, nearly half are already known and the rest are unique. As a result, the Winchester Parts Books are considered an important source of his music.

Unfortunately, Waelrant’s madrigals have been little recorded in the past decades and can stand to be explored in the same fashion as some of his contemporaries.

In the chanson category, a few titles jump out as being some of the super hits of the late-Renaissance. They include Pierre Sandrin’s “Doulce Memoire” and Claudin de Sermisy’s “Tant que vivray.”

Our new release of the features the Colombian ensemble Musica Ficta whose latest offering focuses on music from Spanish Colonial Bogota.

The music heard on this episode was performed by Doulce Memoire, Ensemble Clément Janequin, and the Camerata Hungarica.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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