The Dow Partbooks include a collection of five partbooks compiled by Robert Dow in Oxford around 1580 and ranking among the most beautiful Tudor music manuscripts. Not only is the work remarkable for being an important source for Tudor music, but it also constitutes the only known source for some of the pieces featured in the collection. While most of the pieces are choral, some are also instrumental. The repertory is varied and includes Latin-texted motets, English-texted anthems and consort songs, and a selection of In nomines and textless chansons, scored mainly for five-voice texture.
The Work of a Trained Calligrapher
Robert Dow was an experienced calligrapher, and his penmanship, executed in black ink on printed red staves, was accurate and easy to read. He copied all the works apart from numbers 53-4 (copied by one John Baldwin, singing-man at St. George's Chapel), and numbers 99-100 (copied by an unknown person). As for the numberings following 54, they were added in the nineteenth century by several other hands.
Pieces by Many Composers
Among the composers featured in the collection are William Byrd, Robert White, Robert Parsons, Alfonso Ferrabosco, John Shepherd, Thomas Tallis, William Mundy, Christopher Tye, Orlandus Lassus, John Taverner, Richard Farrant, and Peter Phillips.
The collection was in the possession of Henry Aldrich, an English theologian, philosopher, and composer. At the time of his death, in 1710, it was donated to Christ Church in Oxford as part of his bequest to the college.