The musical mystery of Nicholas Ludford, the composer of five centuries ago, has just been solved. As The Cardinall’s Musick bring out his complete works, Rob Ainsley tells the story of the case.
A few years ago, at New College, Oxford, builders found a piece of paper used long ago to cover a crack in the wall. It was a fragment of a four hundred-year-old musical manuscript. Such a fate, sadly, was common for most of England’s great religious music after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the late 1530s. Priceless music books were torn up and used as account rolls, as book binding, even to wrap fish.
Only two choirbooks from Henry’s reign survived intact. The so-called Caius and Lambeth Choirbooks (respectively now in Cambridge and London) have been a tantalising puzzle for music researchers for several decades. The size and weight of paving slabs, they contained wonderful vocal music in gloriously illuminated manuscripts, both written in the same hand. Most of the music was by two composers but the bare surnames were the only information given. Who were ‘Ludford’ and ‘Fayrfax’? How had the books survived? And what did the music sound like?
They would have remained just another footnote in musical history had it not been for David Skinner, an Oxford academic and co-director, with Andrew Carwood, of the early music group The Cardinall’s Musick. We now know the story of the books and more on the life of the composers. Best of all, we can hear the music from the Caius and Lambeth choirbooks on disc.
Continue reading ‘Solved! The Elusive Case of Mr Ludford and His Music Manuscripts’