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Music before 1600

The study of music before 1600 at Cambridge is notable for its wide historical coverage informed by a commitment to source studies and an appreciation of music within its wider cultural context. Common research themes include transmission (oral, manuscript and print), the role of music in ritual and ceremony, the place of institutions in shaping music history, and the intersection between notated sources and modern performance.

Iain Fenlon’s writing on Italian music and culture from 1450 to 1650 has been centrally concerned with how the history of music is related to the history of society, whether through the medium of patronage, print culture, civic or courtly life.  He has most recently explored the way that history, memory and myth combine in the ceremonial life of Renaissance Venice. Susan Rankin’s work on Sankt Gallen and Winchester has explored how repertories are shaped within institutions and by individual scribes.   She has been particularly concerned to engage with medieval music through its sources, place and meaning within ritual, demonstrating the way that some of the earliest recorded repertories were shaped by wider projects of cultural and liturgical renewal.  Within the same period, Sam Barrett’s research has focussed on the medieval Latin lyric, exploring song collections extending from the earliest notated sources through to the thirteenth century.  He has been especially concerned with editing repertories previously considered beyond reconstruction, and with the roles of scholars and performers in handling the limits of the known.  He also has an interest in the implications of music writing, late antique and early medieval theory, and ways of accounting for the performative component of medieval musical repertories.

The place of modern performance within study of music before 1600 lies at the heart of the work of Edward Wickham, who has pioneered the practice of singing from 15th- and 16th-century manuscript notation, and has made first-time recordings of a series of composers with his professional group, The Clerks . David Skinnner has similarly pursued interests that lie at the intersection of performance, editing and manuscript study, having published widely on the music and musicians of early Tudor England while exploring performance practice with his Alamire ensemble.

In the recent REF exercise, the Faculty was assessed as having a particular strength in early music, critical editing and source studies; some of the published research was described as demonstrating exceptionally expert handling of established methodologies.


Faculty staff

Sam Barrett


Iain Fenlon

Susan Rankin


Affiliated Lecturers

David Skinner

Edward Wickham


Post-doctoral and affiliated researchers

Sean Curran

Matthew Laube

Daniel Trocmé-Latter


Graduate Students

Emmanuel Singer

Giovanni Varelli


Image: the 'earliest known piece of polyphonic music' discovered by PhD student Giovanni Varelli, from the British Library