Author Topic: Wond'rous Machine : the curious history of the organ in England TUDOR PERIOD  (Read 3638 times)

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Martin Renshaw

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5. An unusual and very protracted Reformation, initiated in 1533 by a musician-King Henry VIII, continued by his church-music loving daughter Elizabeth, but not really completed until towards the end of the 17th century, left the cathedrals, universities and some collegiate churches with their endowments and musical establishments virtually intact, initially at least, while also creating secularised cathedrals from dissolved monastic ones.  The court continued to enjoy Latin services and anthems, and their organists and composers included Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons - the first of these brought up in pre-Reformation Canterbury, the second a life-long Roman Catholic and the third a Protestant.  An attempt by the Commissioners of the youthful Edward VI to rob churches of all their valuable items (church plate and bells being particularly targeted) was only partly foiled by the accession of Mary in 1553, when Roman liturgies and their ornaments were restored.  During Elizabethís long reign, though, many parish churches gradually lost their old furnishings and organs, having finally been deprived of their monastic support and being heavily taxed to support wars against continental Roman Catholic powers, principally Spain.  It is likely that organs from disbanded monasteries had already found their way into private houses, where both Anglican and Roman musical devotions and concerted music became common.  Two large organs were however made in London : at Westminster when the former abbey became a cathedral in 1540 and following serious fire damage to St Paulís cathedral in the 1560s.  The large and very beautiful Westminster case, pure Italian renaissance in style, still exists at St Brieuc in Britanny ; one of the earliest organ exports to France !  It is unlikely that similar organ-building activity went on in the provinces, where in general the status of music in church worship was under sustained attack from hard-line bishops, except in the south-western counties where many organs continued to be used and made right up to the Civil War.  English sea power and zeal for trade make it possible for Thomas Dallam, from a dispossessed minor-aristocratic Catholic family, to go with a very complicated and expensive mechanical instrument through the dangerous Mediterranean to Istanbul as a gift for the Sultan.  He compiled a detailed Diary of this journey in 1599 and 1600.  The oldest English keyboard instrument (of any kind) to survive in playing condition is a consort organ since at least 1682 at Knole House, Sevenoaks (in Kent), and is now thought to date to the later years of the 16th century, the time of Dallamís journey.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2013, 07:47:10 PM by organforumadmin »


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Very interesting Martin - keep up the good work.

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