In the library, we recreate a sense of the music of Tudor times, as Queen Katherine Parr would have known it. Henry VIII was ‘the musical king’ : expanding court musicians by threefold, amassing a personal collection of over 300 instruments, and inviting musicians from across Europe to join his ‘King’s Musick’. His courtly musicians included three harpists, the most famous of whom was Blind William More. Both Henry and Anne Boleyn were said to play harp. Katherine Parr was a musical appreciator, as a patron of viol consorts and the Bassano brothers, though it is not known if she played instruments too.
Harps of the time were of two varieties, the small Gaelic harp and the larger Gothic harp. Alys Winchcombe plays a Gothic harp, a replica of the 15th century Wartburg harp which was common across Europe in late medieval and Tudor eras. Made from sycamore wood with holly bray pins, it has a unique sound and character, and is a joy to play. The music is all from Tudor times – stately pavanes, skipping courantes, leaping galliards and voltas conjure the atmosphere of dancing at court, where ‘kicking the tassle’ was a favourite move! There is music too from the Henry VIII Songbook: – the collection of over 50 tunes, all signed by Henry, but unconfirmed whether written by him.
Composer and lutenist John Dowland is said to have visited Sudeley at the time of Elizabeth I’s second progress. He is one of our premier English composers of the time, and famous for the beautiful and haunting ‘Lachrymae’ suite. It is a privilege to play his music at Sudeley. I get a peculiar sense that he is listening.
There are many fascinating stories about music and harps in Tudor times, from Mary Queen of Scots, to Henry VIIIs involvement with Brian Boru’s harp- a celtic chieftain from the 10th century.
I look forward to seeing you, and hope you enjoy my music in the lovely setting of Sudeley.