450 year-old music fragment gets belated encore

The ancient sheet music will be performed at Holy Trinity Church in Haddington. Picture: comp
The ancient sheet music will be performed at Holy Trinity Church in Haddington. Picture: comp
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A NEWLY discovered sheet of music from pre-Reformation times is set to be sung for the first time in 450 years.

The fragment had been used to cover the Haddington town treasurer’s account book, which dates back to 1579, and was only rediscovered around 18 months ago.

It will now be brought back to life by the St John’s and St Mary’s Cathedral choirs during a public lecture on September 8.

Rev Dr Holmes, who is also the associate rector of St John’s Church on Princes Street and Honorary Fellow in church 
history at Edinburgh University School of Divinity will analyse it as well as explain pre-1560 worship in Scotland.

He said: “The fragment gives a precious glimpse into the culture and religion of Haddington before the destruction caused by John Knox.

“It is a chance to hear music that would have been heard in Haddington 500 years ago.”

The music was only found when items were being transferred from the National Archives, where it had been held for almost 100 years, to the new John Gray Centre in the East Lothian town.

There were more than 10,000 books for worship in Scotland before 1560, but only 89 books and 88 fragments survived.

East Lothian Council archivist Frances Woodrow said: “The page is from a religious book and it was used in the Reformation almost like you would to cover a school jotter.

“There’s not much else like this – we have something in Musselburgh where a papal bull was used to cover a volume, but this is very clear so that’s why they have been able to get so much from it.

“They had a different set of chants for every Sunday so that’s why they can pinpoint it down to the exact date it was sung. The most exciting thing is we will hear it again.”

Ms Woodrow said the fragment could be viewed at the John Gray Centre after the lecture at the Holy Trinity Church.

Rector Anne Dyer said: “It is over 450 years since this piece of church music was sung in Haddington, and it will be a pleasure it to hear it in this setting.”

Tickets cost £5 and can be purchased from Kesley’s bookshop, in Haddington, or on the door.