MUSIC & MUSICIANS OF THE STUART CATHOLIC COURTS

1660 - 1718

Peter Leech completed his PhD in musicology in 2004 awarded by Anglia Ruskin University, with a thesis entitled ‘Music and Musicians at the Stuart Catholic Courts, 1660-1718’, supervised by leading seventeenth-century specialist Dr Peter Holman MBE.

Initial study plans were focussed upon the instrumental music of Louis Grabu (Master of the King’s Music from around 1665-1673 and a foreign Catholic with close associations with the London Catholic community) and many of his colleagues at the early Restoration court (1660-88).

It soon became apparent that an area more in need of scholarly examination was that of music associated with the Recusant Catholic Community in the British Isles during the second half of the seventeenth century, much of which was generated within, sponsored by or strongly associated with the Catholic Royal households of Catherine of Braganza, Henrietta Maria, Mary of Modena and James II.

The primary aim of Peter’s research therefore shifted towards setting the careers of Catholic musicians at the Restoration Catholic courts in greater context, as well as items of musical repertory composed by, or associated with them.

In the process, he identified hitherto unknown music by Innocenzo Fede (James II’s Italian maestro di cappella at his lavish Whitehall Catholic chapel) and shed further light on the careers of Miguel Ferreira, Matteo Battaglia and Timotheo di Faria, musicians employed by Catherine of Braganza from the 1660s to early 1690s. He also produced several articles and conference papers. 

Peter’s research highlighted the importance of Stuart Court Catholicism to the history of music in the latter years of the seventeenth century, a phenomenon long regarded as peripheral to the mainstream development of music in the British Isles.

 
 

Selosse Manuscript

Set against the background of Peter’s primary research interests, his discovery in 2004 of a late seventeenth-century keyboard manuscript, whose provenance indicates strong connections with the Catholic recusant community during the same period, is therefore a remarkable coincidence.

Now known as the ‘Selosse Manuscript’, after the person ‘Antonio Mason alias Seloss’, to whom its contents were attributed in a flyleaf, it is available in a modern edition edited by Leech and published by Edition HH, the introduction of which makes the case for ‘Seloss’ being the Jesuit musician Antoine Selosse, SJ, (1621-87), organist and choirmaster at the English Jesuit College at St Omer from 1659 until his death.

The contents of the manuscript are now available on a world-premiere recording by Terence Charlston on the Deux-Elles label, containing detailed CD sleeve notes discussing the provenance of the manuscript and stylistic features of the contents. Andrew O’Connor praised the recording highly in the October 2010 edition of International Record Review, commenting that ‘This sort of happy accident plus solid scholarship and musical flair is exactly why being an Early Music CD collector is so endlessly rewarding.’

We know from a flyleaf inscription that the manuscript was given to a Mary Cicely Tichborne (not yet conclusively identified, despite intensive research, but possibly a member of the Catholic Tichborne family) by Toussaint la Poülle S.J., a French member of the English Jesuit province who had been stationed at St Omer in the 1690s. Toussaint died suddenly in England whilst en route to the English Jesuit mission in Maryland.

It may never be known when or how the manuscript passed from Toussaint to Mary, nor is it known when or how Toussaint acquired it, but a likely scenario is that he obtained it from someone associated with music at St Omers. The transfer to Mary (who may have been a Catholic Nun) could have taken place somewhere in the Low Countries in the two decades before 1710, but also in England in the last months of Toussaint’s life.

One item in the manuscript, known as ‘The King’s Hunt’, is by John Bull. A Suite in G major and an allemande from a D major suite are both almost identical to works attributed to the English composer John Roberts. Andrew Woolley has also identified textual concordances, dating from around 1710, for a Chaconne in C major.

A handful of items (including the ‘Roberts’ G major Suite and 14 sections of a monumental set of ‘La Folia’ variations in D minor) are also found in a manuscript owned by Christopher Hogwood (GB-CAMhogwood, M1471), although there are no accompanying attributions. The Hogwood manuscript also has several features which suggest much or part of it was possibly created in a Recusant musical environment.

Whilst the appearance of the Bull and Roberts pieces demonstrates that Selosse could not have been the author of the whole manuscript named after him, several other items have not yet been identified in other contemporary sources. The possibility of his authorship of some of these items therefore remains strong.

Some pieces display strong hints of liturgical usage, such as a D major Fuga based on the plainsong for ‘Ite missa est’, and a C major ‘Toccata’ which calls for the use of the vox humana (solo reed) stop, suggesting their having been composed or copied by an organist or, at the very least, someone working within an ecclesiastical environment.

This argument has been further taken up by Terence Charlston in ‘Concealed within? Liturgical Organ Music in the Selosse Manuscript’, The Organ, August-October 2010, pp.15-20.

The scholar José Quitin has demonstrated that an Antoine Selosse had been an organist at St Lambert’s Cathedral, Liège, from around 1651-1657, and circumstantial evidence suggests he may be the same man who later went to St Omer. Little is known of the career of Selosse the Jesuit (b.1621) before his entering the order in 1658.

The discovery of the ‘Antoine Selosse Manuscript’ led to initial collaboration between Peter Leech and leading expert in the history of Jesuit education, Professor Maurice Whitehead, in the Department of History at Swansea University. In 2008 Peter was appointed to an Honorary Research Fellowship in the same department, and is now working with Whitehead on an interdisciplinary collaborative project: ‘Recusant Music and Musicians c.1600-1750’.

Peter is also currently revisiting and expanding areas of his PhD research, including work on the Catholic Chapel of James II, musical life in seventeenth-century English convents in the Low Countries and more thorough investigation of the cultural life of Jesuit colleges at St Omer and in the wider Southern Netherlands during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

 

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