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The first biography of William Shakespeare in 1709 describes the playwright's father as ‘a considerable dealer in wool’ (Rowe 1709, p. ii). Winnow out the subsequent speculative or anecdotal descriptions of John Shakespeare and what emerges is a successful self-made man, active in the business that then dominated the nation's economy. He lived almost two decades longer than his famous son, dying in 1601 aged 71 or so, still litigating on business debts in his final years.
John Shakespeare's apparent standing in the Stratford community changed over his lifetime, but there were solid financial reasons for this as legislation and regulation sought to restrict those who dealt in wool. Both father and playwright son died wealthy landed gentlemen, and the similarities in their handling of money rather than the differences in career choices have, remarkably, been largely ignored. Sufficient records exist to show how the Shakespeare fortune was accumulated, and understanding the economic necessities of their business illuminates much of the family's lives. William Shakespeare was never the romantic poor boy from an impoverished family. To better comprehend the son, we must understand the father. William Shakespeare's ‘works’ are poems and plays; John Shakespeare's ‘work’ was broking wool and lending money. Here I present a revisionist view of the father's business success through reference to Stratford-upon-Avon's borough records, his court cases and an analysis of English woolbroking in the sixteenth century. John Shakespeare was, in reality, a successful and astute individual who voluntarily left public life when his woolbroking business was threatened. Through an analysis of the social, political and economic contexts surrounding the 1576 Royal proclamation against woolbrokers or ‘broggers’, it can be shown that the Shakespeare family never experienced any economic adversity. This has significant implications for understanding William Shakespeare‘s prosperity, shifting the onus away from his artistic endeavours to the family business.
The cultivation of high-art polyphony has always been the preserve of a cultured elite minority who could write, read, and sing it. In the early fifteenth century, the number of surviving books significantly increases, facilitating insights into the geographical spread and longevity of the repertory, how and for whom books of music were made, even matters of authorship and performance. English music has many threads linking it to other collections within England and on the Continent. After centuries of only fragmentary survivals, the fifteenth century brings several more or less complete English manuscripts along with a rich harvest of fragments. Fourteenth-century notation uses filled black notes, with mensural or proportional differences shown as void or red notes towards 1400. The distinction between institutional or commissioned manuscripts and personal compilations corresponds closely to dimensions, discounting different sizes of writing block within a manuscript.
Writing in 1882, Edmond Vander Straeten was the first to argue that the name ‘Juschino’ among the singers of Galeazzo Maria Sforza's household chapel referred to the composer Josquin des Prez. Assuming a birthdate in the early 1450s, Vander Straeten found it easy to understand why the young Josquin was at the bottom of the salary scale in 1475, the date of the documents. Soon afterwards, Eugenio Motta provided new evidence to support that identification and stretch Josquin's Milanese career to 1479. Since then the years in Milan have had a fixed and central place in all studies of Josquin's life.
Just fifty years after Okeghem died, apparently as a very old man, Glareanus published a massive treatise entitled Dodecachordon (1547). In the last chapter, which Glareanus describes as an afterthought, he discusses the skill of certain composers, using mostly canonic works as his examples. Among them is Okeghem's three-out-of-one canon Prenez sur moy, which Glareanus describes as a ‘catholicon’. It is a song that has caught the imagination of many commentators over the centuries. Composed before c. 1470, it was presented and discussed by five music theorists of the sixteenth century and reprinted as late as 1594 – a matter that gives it a longer continuous career than any other polyphonic song of the fifteenth century. But therein lies the problem. Later writers added details that they thought would clarify the music but which only confused the issue.
Ideas about the performance of early music have changed radically over the past forty years. There has been considerable research on the vocal and instrumental forces Monteverdi is likely to have had in mind. For most baroque music, we now prefer an athletic and transparent texture to the lush, full sound of yesteryear. Different views of tempo go hand in hand with these ideas; in fact, in some ways they flow almost inevitably from them. Those in their turn lead to a questioning of earlier assumptions about form and design. Pitch, pitch-standards and intonation have similarly been examined exhaustively in a historical context, with results that have a fundamental impact on the performer's approach. In the particular case of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers there has been enormous discussion of how far it is really to be seen as a single work, whether liturgical material needs adding, and if so how much. Few of these areas of discussion have led to unanimously accepted conclusions: that is often the way with historical investigation, in music as much as in anything else. And not all conductors have shown themselves equally informed or equally prepared to accept the latest conclusions at any one time. But the range of areas in which attitudes have changed means that each performance is to some extent a child of its time. The date of a recording is important.
Not that the date of itself says much about the quantity of musical pleasure to be derived from a particular recording. Most musicians would accept that there are qualities of musicianship which retain their power irrespective of historical purity.
Lorenz Welker kindly allowed me to see the typescript of his paper just as I was embarking on an attempt to list the polyphonic song repertory of the years 1415–80. With the startling knowledge that some of Oswald's music originated as late as 1420, my ear was obviously alert for more such pieces. Sure enough two additional polyphonic songs by Oswald turned out to have music taken from the French repertory of the early fifteenth century. They are Sag an gesellschaft/Von rechter lieb kraft and Kom liebster man.
It is well known that when Father Laurence Feininger died in 1976 he left a substantial body of unpublished material. Edward Lowinsky has argued powerfully that “an enormous obligation rests on the national and international associations of musicology to undertake the publication of Feininger's scholarly estate and to bring it to the full use and enjoyment of the musical and musicological world”.