Renaissance humanism and John Merbecke's The booke of Common praier noted (1550)
Renaissance humanism was an intellectual technique which contributed most to the origin and development of the Reformation. While the relation of Renaissance humanism and the Reformation is of considerable interest in the realms of history and theology, it has seldom been examined from a musicological perspective. This study aims to fill that gap by elucidating the way humanist musical thought influenced Reformation attitudes to music, with particular reference to the sixteenth-century reform of plainchant. The focus of the study is on the musical manifestation of the English Reformation, The booke of Common praier noted (BCPN, 1550) by John Merbecke (c.1505 - C.1585). Drawing upon issues of the interpretation of Renaissance humanism and its relation to the Reformation, the thesis challenges existing understandings of Merbecke and his music. Chapter one is a biographical study to re-appraise Merbecke's careers and outlooks in the light of Renaissance humanism, especially of Erasmian lines. It serves as a starting point for re-evaluating the significance of BCPN in relation to humanist musical thought. Chapter two explores the musical framework of Erasmian humanism which became a major intellectual basis for the renewal of Christian music on the eve of the Reformation. Chapter three reveals the core of Anglican plainchant apologetics underlying BCPN, illustrating that the musico- rhetorical and ethical associations of humanism played an integral part in shaping the Anglican criteria of true ecclesiastical music. Chapter four argues that two humanist conceptions were integrated into the programme of the reform of plainchant in BCPN: 'rhetorical theology' (theologia rhetorica) and 'rhetorical music' (musica rhetorica). It explores word-tone relations in BCPN, thereby demonstrating its characteristics as a humanist plainchant directed towards the 'rhetoricisation of music'; it sheds a new light upon Merbecke's notation and modes in BCPN, especially in relation to the ‘theory of accented singing' and the doctrine of 'mode ethos’.