Reproducing FWVB notation exactly

The new edition of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book by Lyrebird Music attempts to reproduce exactly the notational oddities of the original. One of these is the splitting of notes that today would not be split and using tied beams instead. Often the notes are across the beat. But this is not always the case, as this example from the beginning of Bull’s In Nomine IX shows.


As far as I know, this notation is not used in other sources of the same repertoire. The questions that arise in my mind are:

– Does this notation help our understanding of the piece?
– Does it tell us anything about how to play the notes that are split?
– Or is it just an amusing conceit of the original copyist?


Very interesting David! For those of us who have the “poor man” Dover edition, this piece is in Vol. II p. 34, where the editors very appropriately have (a) suggested the (11/4) marking and added a to each bar a vertical dotted bar separating the first 8 beats from the succeeding 3 beats.
The Dover edition uses semibreves instead, and I see no advantage whatsoever in the original notation.

Hi David,

Here’s my delayed reaction to your interesting observation on this interesting piece.

I was lucky to get a cheap used copy of Thurston Dart’s Musica Britannica John Bull edition, and reading the notes on p.166 it seems that the cantus firmus has tied minims in all three manuscripts at the start (in the first two 11-beat measures). In the FWVB this is kept up for the first 25 11-beat measures (to bar 74 in MB), “thereafter the minims are left without ties”. (But I know it is easy to misinterpret such reports!!)

I don’t have facsimiles of any of the 3 MSS, but it appears the intention is to have the player thinking in a pulse of minims, implying a strong internalised beat even where the minims are tied in the cf… This corresponds to the position of ornaments (except the first one) in the upper parts for the first three 11-beat measures.

Reading the Maitland or Dart editions I don’t pick up this strong directive to think in terms of minims. Personally I like Maitland’s use of 11-beat bars for the first two pages (up to the 19th 11-beat measure) a lot; after that he follows the FWVB in separating off the 3/4 unit with a solid barline and I like playing from this less. I find the systematic subdivision into 4/4+4/4+3/4 in the Dart edition less readable and annoyingly overfiddly.

So yes, I think there is some point in replicating this feature, which seems to be present in all 3 MSS. If the piece was played on the organ, a human organ blower might incorporate a minim beat into his or her blowing.