Magnificent Tudor music manuscript for British Library

  • 6 June 2006

The Art Fund has helped the British Library to acquire My Layde Nevells Booke, acknowledged as the finest Tudor music manuscript in existence.

My Ladye Nevells Booke contains 42 works by William Byrd (1543-1623), the greatest composer of the Elizabethan age.  The manuscript  is a work of great visual beauty with four six-line staves per page, the title of each piece in fine calligraphy and a masterful image of the Nevill coat of arms on the inside frontispiece. 

Apart from a manuscript containing two of Byrd’s youthful pieces, My Ladye Nevells Booke is the earliest surviving source of Byrd’s keyboard music and contains some of his best known music including ‘Carman’s Whistle’ and ‘Sellinger’s Round’. 

Aesthetically the manuscript is notable for its outstanding calligraphy, its presentation binding, its gilt edges pricked with fine lace Elizabethan guilloché and the quality of the heraldic crest. It is still contained in its original brown calf presentation binding of embossed strapwork around a central cabouchon cartouche, with corners featuring scrollwork and shells. 

The Art Fund’s Director, David Barrie, commented on the acquisition: “William Byrd belongs to the Golden Age of English music and we are delighted to have helped add such a precious work to the collection of the British Library.  We were really impressed by this magnificent manuscript in terms of its craftsmanship and beauty as well as its historical value.

The manuscript was accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and allocated to the British Library.  It was acquired for £404,069 with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Golsoncott Foundation, Friends of the British Library, Friends of the National Libraries and private donors.

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