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A Musical Discovery

The recent discovery of some fragments of music in the binding of an old hymn book in Wycombe Parish Church has revealed glimpses of a unique piece of 16th century polyphony. The pages appear to come from the Cantus and Tenor part books of what may have been a set of quodlibets combining sacred and secular texts. Only the first few words survive but the Cantus is clearly a song of unrequited love and its chromatic opening shows the depth of anguish in the poet's heart. The Tenor is another matter entirely, and appears to be a setting of a penitential sacred text, probably intended for performance in Holy Week. Combining these together was a bold stroke and the piece, although not entirely free from awkwardness, is reminiscent of the earlier masterpieces such as Ockeghem's Missa Prolationum with its simultaneous use of perfect and imperfect time signatures.

Volunteers are needed to dissect the remaining 873 hymn books in search of further portions of this exceptionally interesting composition.

DGF 1/4/02

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