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These composers especially are not immediately associated in the public imagination with the reformed Scottish Church, which took its worship models from Geneva and emphasised the simplest form of unaccompanied psalm singing. However, as Noel O’Regan writes,

The tide did not turn right away and there were experienced singers and musicians in the Chapel Royal and elsewhere who would have welcomed harmonised psalms and canticles . . . He proceeded to use the remaining pages [of his part-books] to build up an anthology of polyphonic music from a variety of sources. As he says in one of his annotations, he was afraid that “musicke sall pereishe in this land alutterlye” and so he set out to preserve as much as he could of it, whether it was pre-Reformation Latin motets by Scottish, English and continental composers, popular religious songs, anthems setting English texts or instrumental dance music.

If only ecclesial, theological and spiritual matters could be left to the leadership and guidance of musicians!

The exhibition of Thomas Wode’s partbooks opened up a new vista of understanding of the Scotland of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It shone a light on the music that musically-literate Scots of the time loved, and loved performing. These collections are evidence of a flourishing musical culture in Scotland as it began its new phase of retreat and isolation. But music respects neither imposed ideology nor geographical and religious boundaries. Wode’s work shows that Scotland, in spite of everything, was connected to a wider world, and absorbent of the most important European music of the day.

The power and significance of one of his annotations on these books resounds through the centuries to Scots today. He wrote that singing in four or five parts was “meit and apt for musitians to recreat their spirittis when as thay shall be over cum with hevines or any kynd of sadness, not only musitians, but evin to the ignorant, of a gentle nature, hearing shal be conforted and mirry with uss.”

These words by a musician at a time of great trial and trouble can be a manifesto even for future generations as to the power of music — especially so when faced with the depredations of iconoclasm and enforced forgetting. If Scotland has to face more cultural revolutions in the future, I hope there will be new Thomas Wodes around to cultivate in the darkness and to preserve all that is good in the human spirit.
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