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Thomas East and Music Publishing in Renaissance England.

Jeremy L.Smith. Thomas East and Music Publishing in Renaissance England.

Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 233 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. $65. ISBN: 0-19-513905-4.

Thomas East is the first early printer of music in Britain to receive the sort of detailed attention that has been lavished on Continental music printers of the sixteenth century, and he presents a most worthwhile subject for such a study. He never held the royal patent (monopoly) for music printing and publishing, for that was the property (during his active career) of William Byrd (one of the greatest of English composers) and then of Thomas Morley (one of the most influential). But he did produce their editions, and he did, with them, demonstrate that the craft could be both successful and influential. Jeremy Smith sets out to trace East's commercial career, to argue for the various motivations of the people involved with the monopoly, and to demonstrate the complex pattern of editions, undated editions, and "hidden" editions that came from East's press.

Smith is right to stress the central importance of the monopoly, and his discussions of its impact are generally successful. Some of the editions put out for Byrd were probably not commercially viable, and some were assuredly printed with very particular markets in mind. Smith's hypothesis about the timing and circulation of the clandestine editions of Byrd's masses, surely not acceptable to the authorities at the end of Elizabeth's reign, is a plausible one, and so is his argument for why Thomas Morley needed to acquire the monopoly for himself once Byrd had let it lapse. He is also good about East's probable connection with the Essex rebellion.

The book is valuable, too, for the clarity with which Smith distinguishes the act of printing from that of publishing, something of a rarity in writing about early music. True, the pattern is somewhat easier to detect when there is a royal monopoly, as here, but Smith can use the distinction to build his case for the role of East, and for a somewhat different view of music circulation in England. Indeed, he claims that "striking new views are offered--of the market for music, the role of the Elizabethan music monopoly, and the ways in which English composers reacted to the novel medium of print" (7).

In practice, these new views are not fully justified by the evidence. It is not possible to argue, for example, that a second edition implies that the music was popular, as Smith does more than once (on 91 and 129, for example). Especially when one wishes to argue (as he also does) that some of these editions were personal commissions by the composer or a patron, one can only assert that the first edition did not reach everyone who was interested. Similarly, it is not feasible to assert that using paper left over from one title to print another says anything about the status of that second book (67-68).

Nor, I think, can Smith demonstrate the long-term strategic thinking that he attributes to Byrd, East, and Morley. Byrd "had personal goals that shaped much of the enterprise of music publishing in England" (69); East "had particular goals for his own use of the music monopoly" (75); and Morley "had already made plans to assume the place Byrd once held" (78), while "his primary objective was to control music printing" (85). Such statements are really no more than speculation, supported (it is true) by some useful circumstantial evidence, but implying an impossible awareness of detailed motivations. They are weak in assuming that momentary financial or personal considerations can be interpreted as reflecting sweeping agendas: they are weakest where technical issues arise, for there is much evidence from elsewhere (both in England and on the Continent) that would modify Smith's case. This is most apparent, and most significant for his theories, when he writes about patterns of paper use, and their implications for "hidden" editions.

East, in common with most music printers of the sixteenth century, regularly produced new sheets, new gatherings, and new editions of books as the stock ran down, and also frequently did not incorporate new dates or new prefatory material. Smith has done excellent work in identifying many more of these editions than were known before, and he is clear in suggesting why a number of these editions were produced, especially during the period surrounding the transition between Byrd's and Morley's tenure as patent-holder. His procedures for dating the editions are tried and tested, and they should reveal a satisfactory chronology: it is unfortunate, therefore, that the critical data in table Al-3 cannot be fully reconciled with the proposed chronology in appendix 4.

Despite these criticisms, the book is a valuable one: the data themselves are significant, and the theories stimulating. While Smith has not proved his case for a new view of the status of music in Elizabethan England, he has marshaled much new evidence and produced a fascinating series of hypotheses well worth further consideration.


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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Boorman, Stanley
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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