Music Printing in Britain Through 1695

THE history of the printing, publishing and selling of music in the British Isles from the fifteenth century to the present time is given only in outline here, presenting in chronological order the main facts in the development and practice of the art and business, together with the names of the most important contributors, in one way or another, to the making and marketing of music in Britain. It is a story of experiment and performance, which produced many examples of fine and artistic craftsmanship that compare to their advantage with many of the best works produced on the Continent. The names of scores of small printers, publishers, engravers, music sellers who worked during the years discussed here are hardly known to-day, except to the musical librarian and specialist, while even of the larger and better known firms much remains to be said about their methods of working, the quality and extent of their publications, their relationships with each other, what they did to stimulate the British composers by making their music accessible and cheap, and the part they played in bringing the works of foreign composers to this country.

Following the invention of letterpress typography on the Continent, in the middle of the fifteenth century, the early printers were soon faced with the problem of how to apply the process to the printing of music; but it was not until the early days of the sixteenth century that their efforts can be considered to have achieved real success. In 1473 appeared what is accepted as the earliest book containing musical notation—Johannes Gerson's Collectorium super Magnificat, printed by Conrad Fyner at Esslingen—but the music consists of five notes only, stamped or printed, leaving the stave lines to be supplied in manuscript. About the same time a Gradual was printed, probably at Augsburg, with the music from movable type, the notes and staves being separately impressed in black. Before the end of the century, a number of works, principally liturgical, containing music were issued on the Continent, the details of which need not concern us here.

Various methods were used in these early days, before printing music by type in one printing became the accepted method until the introduction of engraved plates in 1586 or prior to that. As these various processes have all been used in English music printing, it is essential to describe them briefly here. In some of the earliest printed books containing music, a space was left for the lines and notes to be inserted by hand. The printed methods included: (a) Printed stave lines with notes in manuscript, (b) Stamped or printed notes with lines in manuscript; (c) Stamped notes on printed lines; (d) Notes and lines from a wood or metal block (e) Notes and lines from type in two printings. The method frequently adopted for liturgical works was to print the stave lines in red and the notes in black, a practice that was followed for many years, particularly in the large service books, round which those engaged in the particular church office could gather, and read from a distance.

It was not until 1495 that the first music printed in England appeared; but it can hardly be considered a very important example. It consists of but eight notes in Higden's Policronicon, printed by Wynkyn de Worde at Westminster. In this edition the music was made up from printers' quads and rules. Caxton printed an edition of the same work in 1482; but he left a space for the music to be put in by hand, and in a later edition of Peter Treveris (Southwark, 1527) the music was printed from a wood block. In addition to the above, Steele records only eight works containing music, all liturgical, printed in England before 1530—by Julian Notary and Jean Barbier, Richard Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde; but to these must be added a secular ballad printed by John Rastell probably as early as 1516, and perhaps the music in A new interlude which may have been printed by Rastell, c. 1519 or later, or by his successor John Gough, after 1530. Up to this time there was little call for experiment in music printing in Britain. Secular music was in no demand, and the notation used for the liturgical works was unsuitable for mensural music. But in the opening years of the sixteenth century a striking advance in musical typography was made by Ottaviano Petrucchi, a native of Fossombrone, who was established in Venice in 1491, where he produced in 1501 his first musical work, Harmonice Musices Odhecaton A (a collection of ninety-six secular pieces of three and four parts), which profundly affected music printing in Britain and elsewhere. Petrucchi printed from a fine distinctive type, in two printings, but so exactly registered as to make the whole pleasing and satisfactory. Not only did he lay the pattern for the printing of mensural music, but from 1504 onwards he adopted separate part-books for the various voices, instead of the parts opposite one another on the open pages of the work. This practice of separate part-books was used subsequently for the madrigals and motets, in England and elsewhere, throughout the sixteenth century, although the books of lute songs, etc., were frequently printed with all the parts on one page, or double page, arranged so that the singers and players could sit round the volume. Although the use of part-books may have made performance easier, for the modern collector they have one disadvantage, parts got separated and lost. In consequence, many famous libraries contain numbers of incomplete sets of works, the other parts of which they can hardly hope to obtain. A striking example in English music of much regretted missing parts are those of the 1530 book of twenty songs, referred to later.

The objection to Petrucchi's method was the double printing of the music, which with the text made three printings; and the printers of the time must have felt the need for a oneprocess method. It is a little uncertain as to who first achieved this successfully. Pierre Haultin (or Hautin) in Paris, about 1525 devised a one impression music type, used by Pierre Attaignant a few years later, --while John Rastell and John Gough are variously given the credit for having been the first to discard two impression music printing in England; but their type was rather crude and irregular.

In 1530 England produced one of the finest printed music works of all time, the well known book of Twenty Songs usually attributed to Wynkyn de Worde. The British Museum contains the Bassus part (wanting colophon), and the first leaf of the Triplex part (B.M. K. 1. e. 1.), and from these, experts concluded that Wynkyn de Worde was the printer. A few years ago, however, there was discovered in Westminster Abbey Library, the first and last leaves of the Medius part, with a portion of the colophon: 'Impryntyd in Londõ at the signe of the black Morõs,' which makes it certain that it was not printed by Wynkyn de Worde, as we know his address at the time.

The work was from fine bold type, with the stave lines from metal blocks. The printer may have got some of his ideas from Petrucchi's work, and his type has also some resemblance to that used by Erhart Oeglin at Augsburg from 1507 onwards.

From 1530 until 1575 only some sixty works containing music appear to have been printed in England—by John Gough, Richard Grafton, Robert Crowley, William Seres, John Kingston and Henry Sutton, John Day, etc.—consisting almost entirely of psalters and other liturgical works, Day's editions of the Sternhold and Hopkins versions of the Psalms being twenty or more of the total number. Not until 1571, when Day issued Thomas Whythorne's Songes of three, fower and fiue voyces ... Now newly published, do we find a secular work, except for a ballad or so, indicating very clearly that secular and popular music, such as there was, had not yet become a matter of interest to printers and publishers, who up to that time, and later, were generally concerned with works other than musical. During this period a number of royal licences to print, particularly psalters, were granted—to William Seres in 1552, and John Day in 1559 and later. Richard Day, following his father, exercised his right to print until 1603, when it passed to others. Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were granted by Queen Elizabeth, in 1575, a patent right for twenty-one years for the printing of music and the importation of music from foreign sources; and the first work issued under the patent was their own Cantiones, quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, printed by Thomas Vautrollier in 1575. One other work not in the stream of religious music should be mentioned--Adrian Le Roy's A Briefe and easye instruction to learne . . . the Lute, which was translated from the French, and printed by John Kingston in 1568, who printed another edition in 1574. From 1575 until the beginning of the madrigal period (c. 1586), about fifty works or so appeared, again mainly Sternhold and Hopkins versions of the Psalms by John Day. But from 1586 until the end of the century there were some hundred or more works produced, only forty being psalm books (mostly Sternhold and Hopkins). The remaining sixty or so included madrigals, motets, songs, instruction books; among them Morley's famous Plaine and easie Introduction to practicall Musick (1597)--the textbook for many years to come.

From 1601 to 1620 about one hundred and sixty works appeared, sixty of them being psalm books (mostly Sternhold and Hopkins). From 1621-40, when the madrigal period was over, there were one hundred or more works produced, of which about three-quarters were psalm books (mostly Sternhold and Hopkins).

For the purposes of this survey, it is unnecessary to mention the composers who contributed to this great period of English music (1575-1640); but it may be of use to place in the order of their first starting business, the names of the principal printers, publishers, etc., who played their part in producing the music, and thus making it accessible to the public. The dates given are in some cases conjectural: Henry Denham, 1560-89; Thomas Este (East), 1566-1609; John Wolfe, 1579-1601; John Windet, 1584-1611; Edward Allde, 1584-1628; Humfrey Lownes the elder, 1587-1629; Peter Short, 1589-1603; William Barley, 1591-1614; William Stansby, 1597- 1638; The Stationers' Company, 1604 (first musical work), etc.; Thomas Snodham, 1609-24.

When Thomas Tallis died in 1585, William Byrd became the sole owner of the patent to print music, and he granted permission to others to print under his right. When the patent expired, Thomas Morley was granted in 1598 another patent for twenty-one years. In consequence, much of the music published during this period appeared with the names of the owners of the rights although printed by others. Morley did not exercise his right to print himself except possibly in one case, if the imprint is to be accepted on Richard Carlton's Madrigals to Fiue Voyces (1601); but works were printed by his assignes, William Barley, Thomas Este and Peter Short.

During the period 1530 to 1640 musical typography settled down into an accepted method of single impression printing from movable type, the notes having lozenge shaped heads, each note standing alone, which was generally the practice until the introduction of the tied note in 1687, although oval shaped notes were used on the Continent about 1532.

Steele gives some interesting details of the prices of musical works during the period covered by his survey, examples of which are the following: Morley's Arte of Music, 1597, four shillings; a Lute Book, four shillings; Scotch Psalms, 1575, two shillings unbound, three shillings bound; Psalm Books, 'with the notes', eight shillings and more. A Manual cost two shillings in 1526, twenty pence in 1528, two shillings in 1534, and four shillings in 1554. A Processional cost one shilling and eight pence in 1526 and three shillings in 1554; a Gradual eight shillings and four pence in 1547 and fifteen shillings in 1556; a book of prick-song, three shillings and four pence in 1536. Of the prices of the Elizabethan madrigals and motets there is little information until we come to the various Henry Playford catalogs of 1690 and 1697, which contain a number of priced items of the Elizabethan period that were being sold at two or three shillings each; but these may have been reduced prices owing to the lack of interest in the works at the time, or because Playford was anxious to get rid of his stock.

With the gradual decline in popularity of the madrigal from 1620 to 1640, the reasons for which it is difficult to find—other than the dearth of composers able to follow in the steps of the great Elizabethans—some new movement was necessary if English music was to survive. And strangely enough a rebirth took place in the middle of the seventeenth century, just when the Puritans were in power. It is worthy of note that the new musical enthusiasm was not directed to the old liturgical and religious music, which had largely predominated until the madrigal period, neither did it seem to have much in common with the works of the Elizabethans. It was an entirely new thing—the beginning of the practice and publication of music for all and sundry—for the tavern, the home, the musical club, the theatre and anywhere else; and it was not confined to any type or class of music—vocal or instrumental—secular or sacred—for the professional or the amateur.

The person who was largely responsible for seizing this great opportunity for providing the people with what they wanted in this new uprising of a popular musical culture, was John Playford, who from 1650 until 1686 was the most important music publisher in England. He was, besides, a musician, author, Clerk to the Temple Church, a man of culture, a friend of Pepys.


The use of engraved plates for music printing was first applied on the Continent in 1586 or earlier, but the practice did not spread to England, as far as we know, until some twenty years later. Probably the first engraved English work was Orlando Gibbons's Fantazies of III. Parts, issued without imprint, about 1606-10. It was followed by Parthenia (c. 1613), and Angelo Notari's Prime musiche nuove (c. 1613), both engraved by William Hole, and Parthenia In-violata (c. 1614), engraved by Robert Hole. These four famous works constitute a group by themselves, and no serious attempt was made to continue this form of music printing in England for the next twenty-five years or so, until James Reave produced William Child's The First Set of Psalmes of III. Voyces, in 1639, afterwards reissued by John Playford in 1656 as Choise Musick to the Psalmes of Dauid. From then until the end of the century (omitting publications by Thomas Cross from 1683, by Walsh and Hare from 1695 and by John Young from 1699), probably not more than forty works, excluding sheet songs, were printed from engraved plates, and the Playfords were concerned in a dozen or so of these. Some of the notable examples of this period are Christopher Simpson's The Division Violist (1659, etc.) ; Musicke's Hand-maide (1663) ; Thomas Greeting's The Pleasant Companion (c. 1668, 1673, etc.); Ayrs for the Violin, by Nicola Matteis (c. 1675, etc.); Henry Bowman's Songs for 1 2 & 3 Voyces (1677, etc.); Songs set by Signior Pietro Reggio (1680); Humphrey Salter's The Genteel Companion (1683); and Musica Oxoniensis (1698). Bowman's and Reggio's Songs have finely designed illustrated title-pages, that of the latter being amongst the most beautiful of its kind. The work by Matteis has some title-pages by T. Greenhill, who presumably engraved the music, which is finely executed and has in some of the parts accompanying notes in a faint dotted notation with the principal melody in a larger black notation. Musica Oxoniensis (Oxford, 1698), published by Francis Smith and Peter de Walpergen, was ' Cut on Steel and Cast ... Printed by Leon. Lichfield . . . And . . . sold by the Widow Howell'; another issue having Walsh and Hare in the imprint. Walpergen, a Dutchman, settled in Oxford (c. 1672), cut sets of type (punches) which were used as late as 1899 for The Yattendon Hymnal.

Other music engravers of the period (omitting for the moment Thomas Cross, John Walsh, etc.) were Robert Thornton and R. Brett, and the printers or publishers of engraved works included an anonymous publisher ' At the Bell in St. Paul's Church Yard ' (Thomas Adams?), John Clarke, John Pyper (Piper), William Godbid, Henry Brome, Thomas Bowman (Oxford), Richard Hunt, John Crouch, Francis Leach, Walter Davis and Samuel Briscoe.

Before the end of the seventeenth century, music printing from engraved metal plates had become the generally accepted method, and this lasted well on into the nineteenth century when music printing from type took a new lease of life; not that the latter method ever went out of use. It was retained for certain kinds of publications—hymn and psalm books, some song books, etc. and was also used exclusively by some publishers and printers. The metal plate was changed in course of time from copper to pewter, zinc and alloys, and the artist engraver gave place to the more mechanical puncher of plates.

Thomas Cross was more responsible than anyone else for the establishment of music engraving in England. Not only did he popularize the method, but he set a standard of artistic workmanship that was rarely equalled by his contemporaries and successors. He turned out a considerable amount of work between 1683 and 1733, nearly all of the very best quality in design and execution. He is said to have been the son of Thomas Cross (c. 1644-85), an engraver of portraits and other works. If so, he probably owed much of his skill and artistic ability to the training he received from his father. The latter engraved the portrait of John Gamble in his Ayres and Dialogues (1656), and Kidson suggests that he may have been responsible for some of the frontispieces to music issued by John Playford. Whether Cross senior engraved music is not known. Evidence for the suggestion that he was the father of the music engraver is found in the fact that the latter, particularly in his early days, signed his works as T. Cross junior. He is considered by some writers to have engraved on zinc or pewter, and probably to have used the etching needle and acid; but from his advertisements it is quite clear that his usual medium was copper. He also refused to adopt the less artistic method of partly punching the plates, a practice introduced to this country probably by John Walsh and John Hare in the early part of the eighteenth century. The following interesting extract is from one of Cross's works, Dear Sally, a new Song (c. 1710):

Engraved by T. Cross in Compton Street Clerkenwell near the Pound, who is arriv'd to such perfection in Musick that Gent. may have their Works fairly Engraved, as cheap as Puncht & Sooner; he having good hands to assist him, Covenanted for a term of Years; He can cut Miniture [sic], without having it writ with ungum'd Ink, to take off upon the Plate, as they do for other People. Printed for D. Pratt at ye Printing Office, ye Crown & Bible against York house in ye Strand, where may be had all ye Musick yt comes out from this time, very reasonable, & Engrav'd by T. Cross.

Kidson refers to the warning on one of Cross's sheet songs, 'Beware of ye nonsensical puncht ones.' It is a great pity that the high standard of Cross's work was not maintained by other publishers.

With the establishment of John Walsh and John Hare in 1695, music printing, publishing and marketing were revolutionized. Their story, and the subsequent history, must be left to a subsequent occasion.

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