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Rare musical texts reunited

A collection of 16th century musical manuscripts is to be reunited after 400 years at the University this summer.

The elaborately decorated texts - illustrated with Renaissance musicians, angels and strange bestial creatures - are to go on display together for the first time next month as part of the Singing The Reformation exhibition.

The eight manuscripts, which are the work of the celebrated Scottish cleric Thomas Wode, are usually housed in four separate cities in Europe and the US.

Manuscripts from Georgetown University in the US, Trinity College in Dublin and the British Library in London will join those held by the University of Edinburgh and the National Library of Scotland.

The life of Thomas Wode

They were composed by Wode, a Catholic monk turned Presbyterian minister, between 1562 and 1592 in the aftermath of the Reformation.

The Wode manuscripts - also known as the St Andrews Psalter - are an important musical legacy of one of the most turbulent periods in Scottish history.

These harmonisations of 106 metrical psalms from the Anglo-Genevan Psalm Book and other songs created the gold standard for post-Reformation devotion and worship in Scotland.

Saved for history

Without Wode’s efforts, much of the music heard in the Royal Court and in Scotland’s churches would have been lost forever.

The Wode Psalter sets the 106 psalms to four-part harmonies.

Jane Dawson, John Laing Professor of Reformation History at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“This exhibition celebrates an ordinary man and his extraordinary legacy. Without Wode, Scotland’s treasure store of music would be much poorer.

“Thanks to these beautifully illustrated manuscripts, we have a fascinating insight into Scottish history.

"This exhibition is a remarkable opportunity for people to see these fascinating manuscripts all together for the first time in 400 years - how wonderful!”

Other exhibits and events

The exhibition also includes a display of 16th century musical instruments, such as a sackbut, recorder, and lute.

Also featured are rare books and manuscripts, including the first book printed in Gaelic, the first Psalm book printed in Scotland and early books on musical theory.

The exhibition is organised by the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity and is part of a project funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council grant.

The award-winning Dunedin Consort and Players will also perform a range of music drawn from the Wode Partbooks at a concert in St Giles Cathedral on 20 August 2011. A CD will also be produced.

An iPhone app has been developed in support of the exhibition, including clips of the music contained within the Wode Psalter.

Event details

Singing The Reformation

The exhibition is free and open Monday-Saturday (not Saturdays in September and October). Tickets for the concert in St Giles are available from the Fringe Box Office.

Saturday 6 August 2011, 10.00am

Friday 28 October 2011, 5.00pm

Main University Library, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LJ.

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Related Links

School of Divinity

Special Collections

Wode Psalter iPhone app