Musicians and Commoners in Late Medieval London
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This dissertation examines music making in late medieval London (c.1300-c.1550) from the commoners’ perspective, and with this emphasis, does not discuss royal or monastic musical ensembles or music in aristocratic households, nor does it examine the music of St Paul’s Cathedral in detail. This shifts the focus from mensurally notated, pre-composed music towards monophony and extemporized polyphony which, unnotated, was realized in performance. These kinds of music more than any others were those made by medieval musicians and heard by commoners; through a study of archival documents and their printed editions, including account books, chronicles and other sources, the dissertation identifies the events at which musicians performed and commoners encountered music: civic and royal processions; the Midsummer Watches; processions of criminals with “rough music”; liturgical feast days, and at associated meals. It also locates the music of daily life in the streets and in many dozens of parish churches. The extant notated music from medieval London is mostly in chant books. No complete extant source of polyphony survives, but neither would such a source accurately represent a musical culture in which mensural polyphony and notated music itself were inaccessible to most. Used with methodological caution, documents from London reveal details where little notated music survives and describe or hint at the music that commoners knew. Also examined are two songs (“Sovereign Lord Welcome Ye Be,” “Row the bote Norman”) with surviving texts that may be original. A major appendix lists over 300 musicians who flourished in London in the period.