Music from 400-year-old volume set for Scotland’s oldest concert hall after being saved for the nation
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A series of concerts will be staged at St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh’s Old Town to allow audiences to hear music for the lute, which was written as the instrument enjoyed huge popularity in 17th-century Europe.
It has recently been acquired by Edinburgh University for the venue, which is also home to its collection of musical instruments.
The volume, which contains 32 works by French, Italian and British composers, was published in Bavaria around 1620.
The manuscript was once owned by the French-born musician and instrument maker Arnold Dolmetsch, a leading figure in the 20th-century revival of interest in early music.
It had been reserved for sale internationally, but the UK Government imposed an export bar on the book to give UK institutions the chance to secure it.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Friends of St Cecilia’s Hall and the National Fund for Acquisitions all supported the purchase of the manuscript. The National Fund for Acquisitions, which is administered with Scottish Government funding by National Museums Scotland, helps pay for new additions to the collections of museums, galleries, libraries and archives throughout Scotland.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh University said: “The rare volume is one of the most important surviving sources of music for the lute, written as the instrument enjoyed huge popularity in 17th-century Europe.
"The manuscript is still in its original binding. It will initially be exhibited at St Cecilia’s Hall, alongside a lute also dating from the same time.
"The volume will also be digitised and made available for researchers as part of the university’s heritage collections.”
Dr Jenny Nex, curator and lecturer in musical instruments at the university, said: “We’re delighted to be able to exhibit this incredibly rare and important manuscript.
"Thanks to the generosity of our partners and supporters, the lute manuscript will enrich students’ and visitors’ understanding of how music was played and enjoyed at the time.
“To have compositions performed on the instruments for which they were written offers amazing insights into compositional and performance practices that inspire musicians of today in many different ways.”
Eilish McGuinness, chief executive of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “Were delighted to have awarded a grant to the University of Edinburgh to secure the future of this significant and rare musical manuscript. The manuscript had been at risk of export, but now will be cared for in the university collections in perpetuity.
“There remains much to be learned and this lute manuscript will provide an ongoing rich resource for uncovering more fascinating insights into early music and our wider history.”
Built in 1763 to a design by architect Robert Mylne, St Cecilia’s Hall was originally commissioned by the Edinburgh Musical Society. It is believed to be the only venue in the world where it is possible to hear 18th-century musical instruments played in an 18th-century concert hall.
The venue, between the Royal Mile and the Cowgate, reopened in 2017 after a £6.5 million revamp to a create a new home for the university’s instrument collection.