Our Guide to the BBC Proms 2017

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The highly-anticipated line-up for this year’s edition of the BBC Proms 2017 was announced last week. With an innovative mixture of old and new and an expansion to incorporate new locations including the Tate Modern and a former multi-storey car park in Peckham, it’s already got the music world talking. Tickets can be booked for many events from Saturday 13th May, so put the date in your diary now.

Read our guide to discover the top five Proms we’re looking forward to:

Scott Walker

1. Prom 15 – The ‘Godlike Genius’ of Scott Walker
22:15 on Tuesday 25 Jul 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

Scott Walker has travelled an unusual career path. Having originally found fame with pop group The Walker Brothers in the 1960s, he is well-known today for being a contemporary avant-garde classical musician. This Prom pays tribute to his talent, presenting tracks from his four self-titled albums with live orchestral backing for the very first time. The show will also see a number of special guests take to the stage, including Jarvis Cocker and John Grant.

Read more and book tickets here.

Dianne Reeves

2. Prom 27 – Ella and Dizzy: A Centenary Tribute
19:30 on Friday 4 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

This year marks the centenary of the births of both Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, two jazz legends who were highly influential for the genre and the culture which grew around it. The wonderful jazz singer Dianne Reeves is joined by virtuoso trumpeter James Morrison for a double tribute to these great figures. Conducted by John Mauceri, of Broadway and Hollywood fame, expect Afro-Latin beats contrasted with numbers from the Great American Songbook.

Read more and book tickets here.

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3. Prom 37 – Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3
18:00 on Sunday 13 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

A more traditional option: Alexander Gavrylyuk plays Rachmaninov’s demanding Third piano Concerto. All Rachmaninov’s piano concertos will be performed over the course of the Proms, but this is a particular highlight. The concert also features the composer’s Second Symphony performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, all complemented with elements of Russian Orthodox chant by the Latvian Radio Choir. These chants provide an insight into the Russian sound-world that inspired Rachmaninov’s orchestral works.

Read more and book tickets here.

Karen Kamensek

4. Prom 41 – Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar
22:15 on Tuesday 15 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

East meets West. In the mid-1960s, minimalist composer Philip Glass collaborated with Ravi Shankar, the ‘Godfather’ of the Indian classical tradition. The result was a stunning studio album that combined the sounds of these two masters. For the first time, the whole album will be performed live, with Shankar’s daughter Anoushka Shankar playing the sitar alongside western instruments from the Britten Sinfonia.

Read more and book tickets here.

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5. Prom 52: Beyond the Score: Dvořák’s New World Symphony
19:30 on Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 – Royal Albert Hall

Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 is a haunting work with a fascinating history. This Beyond the Score performance combines actors, projections and live musical examples to explore the story behind this orchestral classic. This immersive experience is followed by a complete performance of the symphony by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé, making this an unforgettable and dramatic musical evening.

Read more and book tickets here.

This is just a sample of the many brilliant things on offer at this year’s BBC Proms. Click here to see the full calendar of events.

International Women’s Day: Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter

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Lucrezia Borgia's Daughter CD

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician is out now from Obsidian Records

It’s International Women’s Day! To celebrate, we’re featuring the latest release by our sister label, Obsidian Records. Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician features never-before-heard music which recent research suggests may have been composed by the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia.

This was music composed for and by women; Eleanora d’Este, a daughter of the famous Borgia dynasty, was the abbess of a convent in Ferrara, where she took an active part in the institution’s musical life. Although we tend to think of them as silent, contemplative places, Renaissance convents were among the most active musical institutions in Europe, with female musicians at their centre.

So who was Lucrezia Borgia?

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1590) has been cast by popular history as a femme fatale, a power-hungry woman who was married to a succession of wealthy men. In truth, she seems more like a pawn in the plans of her male relatives, rather than an orchestrator of murder and seduction. She was used as a bargaining chip to form a series of alliances. When her husband became less useful to the family, the marriage was annulled or, in the case of Alfonso of Aragon, the inconvenient man was murdered. She became deeply religious in her later life, giving generously to the convent where her daughter would later become abbess.

Images of Lucrezia Borgia

Three paintings that might depict Lucrezia Borgia

What about her daughter?

When Eleanora d’Este was orphaned at the age of four, she was placed in the care of the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, Italy. It would have been dangerous for her to be raised in the household of her father, and she would almost certainly have been used as a political bargaining chip, as her mother had been. In the convent, however, she was safe from men and her talent as a musician was allowed to flourish.

As Laurie Stras, director of Musica Secreta, said in a recent interview, “it’s important to remember that nuns in the 16th century had more autonomy than women outside the cloister. Although they were contained in the convent, inside it they were doctors, they were writers, they were painters, they were musicians, they could do the sorts of things that women outside the convent couldn’t do.”

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun and Musician is out now. It features music from Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirens.
See more here

The Most Romantic Pieces of Classical Music Ever

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Valentine’s Day is coming up and it’s the time of year for romance. To get you, or your loved one, in the mood, we’ve put together a list of the most romantic pieces of classical music ever written.

1. Salut d’Amour, Elgar

Elgar this emotional piece in 1888 and gave it to his fiancée, Caroline Alice Roberts, as an engagement present. The piece was dedicated in French “à Carice”. This was a name Elgar had for his fiancée, a combination of her first and middle names. Beautifully, the couple would later name their daughter Carice.

Discover Salut d’Amour and more on Bandstand. Click here for more.

2. Quanto e Bella, Donizetti

Translated as “how beautiful she is”, this piece by Donizetti has a personal history. Written to open his comic opera L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love), the protagonist Nemorino, a poor peasant, declaims his love for the wealthy owner of his land Adina. Donizetti himself, as a struggling composer, was spared from doing military service when a rich woman paid it off for him.

Discover Quanto e Bella and more on Music for Food Lovers. Click here for more.

3. La fille aux cheveux de lin, Debussy

This beautiful prelude, dedicated to “The girl with flaxen hair”, is one of the most romantic piano works ever written. It is based on a French poem by Leconte de Lisle: “Your mouth has such colours divine, / My dear, so tempting to kisses. / On grass in bloom, / talk to me, please, / Girl with fine curls and long lashes.”

Discover La fille aux cheveux de lin and more on The Romance of the Piano. Click here for more.

4. Tango, Isaac Albeniz

Originally written for piano as part of his España suite, this romantic work by Albeniz is often performed by two classical guitars. Close your eyes, sit back, and imagine yourself sitting in a street-side cafe on a sultry night in Spain.

Discover Tango and more on Late Night Classics. Click here for more.

5. Moonlight Sonata, Adagio, Beethoven

Perhaps the perfect piece of piano music? Evoke the silky touch of moonlight with this solemn but stunning bit of Beethoven. Hector Berlioz once described this work as “one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify.”

Discover the Moonlight Sonata and more on Impressions. Click here for more.

Winter blues? Five pieces of classical music guaranteed to cheer you up

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January can be a depressing time of year. But fear not: spring is around the corner and we’ve listed five pieces of classical music guaranteed to cheer you up and beat the winter blues!

1. La Gioconda: Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli

The Dance of the Hours was written as a short ballet to feature in the final act of Ponchielli’s opera La Gioconda. It has since been parodied by a number of composers and film-makers, including Walt Disney: in the famous film Fantasia the work is danced by hippos, ostriches and elephants wearing tutus. Surely bound to put a smile on anyone’s face!

Discover Dance of the Hours and more on Music for Ballet Lovers. Click here for more.

2. Peer Gynt: Morning Mood by Edvard Grieg

Some people don’t know that Peer Gynt was written by Grieg as incidental music for the play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen. Morning Mood was written to suggest the rising of the sun over the play’s protagonist, who has been stranded in the desert. Grieg later published the music as the well-known Peer Gynt Suite, of which Morning Mood constitutes the first movement.

Discover Morning Mood and more on Impressions. Click here for more.

3. I Was Glad by Hubert Parry

Perhaps the most stirring piece of choral music ever written, I Was Glad is a setting by Hubert Parry of a psalm traditionally sung at royal coronations. It was also recently and famously performed during the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in 2011.

Discover I Was Glad and more on Great Choral Anthems. Click here for more.

4. Organ Symphony No. 5 in F Minor, Op.42, Toccata by Charles Marie-Widor

Often known simply as Widor’s Toccata, the final movement of this organ symphony is instantly recognisable. Famous for being used as recessional music at weddings, the music is notable for being arranged around rapid staccato arpeggios, creating a sense of movement and joy.

Discover Widor’s Toccata and more on Great Organ Classics. Click here for more.

5. The Four Seasons: La Primavera by Antonio Vivaldi

The Four Seasons is a collection of violin concerti for each season of the year, accompanied by poems which may have been written by Vivaldi himself. La Primavera captures the joyful new life of spring: “Spring has arrived, and happy / Birds welcome it with joyful song.”

Discover The Four Seasons and more on The Four Seasons and String Concerti. Click here for more.

Gift Guide: Musical Gifts for Her

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From stocking fillers to presents under the tree, try some of these musical gift ideas for the woman in your life.

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For the retro stylist

Reminding us of the stylish and much adored radios from the 50s and 60s, this retro version has modern technology inside to provide top quality digital sound. Accesses FM, MW and LW bands and features a handy foldaway carry handle. £79.99
Click here to see more

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For the jazz lover

Immerse yourself in the golden era of jazz. Discover three decades of wireless classics from some of the great jazz singers and composers, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Glen Miller. Your foot is sure to start tapping to these infectious rhythms from a variety of jazz styles.
Click here to see more

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For the radio lover

Over 7 decades, nearly 3,000 distinguished people have been stranded on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island, accompanied by only eight records, one book and a luxury. This fascinating, extensively illustrated book tells the story through a selection of castaways. £25.00
Click here to see more

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For the chocoholic

Perfect for a dinner party gift, or just for sheer self-indulgence, these inviting boxes each contain 8 delicious Belgian milk chocolates expertly shaped into pianos. £5.99
Click here to see more

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For the Downton Abbey fan

Re-live your favourite Downton moments in award-winning composer John Lunn’s original music for the series. Comprising 36 tracks spanning all six series, performed by The Chamber Orchestra of London.
Click here to see more

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For the tea-time queen

A colourful collage of musical motifs adorn these fine bone china mugs to brighten up your tea breaks. £9.99
Click to see more

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For the sparkle lover

Add some lyrical beauty to your outfit with these pretty silver-plated earrings set with sparkling Swarovski elements. Featuring an elegant, stylised treble clef design to touch the heart of any music lover, they are presented boxed for that perfect gift. £24.99
Click to see more

Gift Guide: Musical Gifts for Him

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Finding gifts for men is notoriously difficult. This Christmas, we’ve come up with a guide with something for every man on your list.

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For the dandy

This silk bow tie is printed with manuscript music by Mozart, ready to complete the outfit of any dapper gentleman. £17.99
Click here to shop now

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For the musical connoisseur

The Spy’s Choirbook from Obsidian Records features music from a book produced by Petrus Alamire, a spy in the court of Henry VIII. Performed by Alamire, the CD was awarded Best Early Music disc at the Gramophone Magazine Awards 2015. £15.00
Click here to shop now

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For the barbecue king

Perfect for barbecuing or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, this apron is printed with music and lyrics of the Lionel Bart song Food Glorious Food, famously performed in the musical ‘Oliver’. £14.99
Click here to shop now

gm375-500For the beginner musician

Perfect for the aspiring musician, this ukulele starter set has everything you need to get going with a new instrument. Includes an attractive handcrafted matt finish wooden ukulele, a black nylon carry case and a 32-page Absolute Beginners Ukulele book with step-by-step instructions and lots of practical advice and tips. £34.99
Click here to shop now

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For the nostalgia lover

This 2 CD collection showcases Frank Sinatra’s cool, swinging anthems and finest crooning songs of love and heartbreak. £9.99
Click here to shop now

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For the vintage record lover

This 4-in-1 music centre is compact enough to fit just about anywhere, but will play all your treasured records, tapes and CDs in glorious stereo. It features a 3-speed turntable, CD Player, cassette player and FM/MW Radio, all in a stylish vintage design. £125.00
Click here to shop now

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For the man who has everything

A side-splitting selection of one-liners, comic definitions, yarns and witty quotes from the world of music. A great stocking filler. £4.99
Click here to shop now

Top 10 Pieces of Christmas Classical Music

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Christmas: a time for peace on earth and good will to men. The streets twinkle with fairy lights and the shops are filled with festive tunes. Some of our deepest Christmas associations often come from the music which defines the season. We’ve put together a musical journey through the history of Christmas classical music from the medieval era to the present day.

angel-1004111_960_7201. Ther is No Rose – Anonymous

This beautiful medieval carol compares the Virgin Mary to a rose. Its stunningly simple lyrics are set to music in the Trinity Carol Roll. This recording was made in Trinity College library by Alamire.

2. Christmas Oratorio – JS Bach

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is one of the best known pieces of classical music performed at Christmas. Written for Christmas 1734, the Oratorio features six sections, each intended to be performed on a different Christmas feast day.

3. Christmas Cantata – Alessandro Scarlatti

Scarlatti wrote for Rome, at the very centre of the Catholic church, where, long before in the seventh century, the custom was established in which mass is celebrated three times as the Pope began to celebrate the Christmas office in a number of churches around Rome. His Christmas Cantata would have been used during these religious celebrations.

4. Messiah – GF Handel

Composed in 1741, Handel’s Messiah was notably written with a libretto in English. The text was compiled from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The Messiah is now one of the most frequently performed pieces of choral music ever written.


5. The Shepherd’s Farewell – Hector Berlioz

The Shepherd’s Farewell is part of Berlioz’ oratorio L’enfance du Christ. The musical narrative is based on the flight of the holy family into Egypt. The Shepherd’s Farewell was originally written as a work for organ, but Berlioz soon turned it into a choral piece for Christmas.


6. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

The Nutcracker is a charming ballet set on Christmas Eve with music composed by Tchaikovsky. His Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is one of the many highlights from this joyful festive experience.


7. This is the Truth Sent from Above – Trad / arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams

This traditional tune was revived and arranged Ralph Vaughan Williams. The composer discovered the tune from a folk singer who had learned it through the oral tradition. Vaughan Williams liked it so much that he also used it to open his Fantasia of Christmas Carols, written in 1912.


8. A Ceremony of Carols – Benjamin Britten

Britten wrote A Ceremony of Carols in 1942 while he was on a boat, travelling from the US to England. The texts are taken from a series of medieval poems, set to music for three treble voices and a harp.


9. O Magnum Mysterium – Morten Lauridsen

Written in 1994, American composer Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium has quickly become a classic work of choral music for Christmas. The words come from a responsorial chant from the Matins of Christmas, and contemplate the wonderful mystery of Christ’s birth.


10. Winter Lullabies – Howard Goodall

The composer Howard Goodall is perhaps best known for his music written for television shows including The Vicar of Dibley and Blackadder. Winter Lullabies, for solo harp and boys’ voices, comprises six loosely-interwoven movements, and despite Thomas Campion’s jovial toast to the delights of winter with which it begins, the texts mainly centre on the hardship and the challenges of winter, particularly for mothers and their infants.

If you’re looking for some festive classics this holiday season, try our collection of music for Christmas. Click here to see more.

New arrivals for Autumn and Winter

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We’ve recently made some exciting additions to our unique range of music and gifts. From new CDs to vintage-style radios, mugs to jewellery, we hope there’ll be something for everyone. Click on the links below to discover more.

New titles

cdg1291-booklet-cover-webAnything Goes
This collection of hits of the 50s from Ella Fitzgerald, ‘The First Lady of Song’, epitomises the twentieth-century jazz scene. Let her enchanting voice transport you back in time. £9.99

gm513-500Downton Abbey: The Ultimate Collection
Missing your favourite TV show? Re-live your favourite Downton moments in award-winning composer John Lunn’s original music for the series. Comprising 36 tracks spanning all six series, performed by The Chamber Orchestra of London. £9.99


Homeware

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This versatile shelf can be mounted vertically or horizontally and is perfect for displaying your favourite CDs and DVDs. £39.99

Winchester Radio
Tune into your favourite radio stations, with this 50s-style radio that looks like it’s just stepped out of the past, but contains the latest transistor technology to ensure a 21st-century sound. £79.99


Jewellery

gm517-500 gm518-500We’ve added two pairs of earrings to our whimsical musical jewellery collection. The Treble Clef and Heart of Clefs earrings are both silver-plated and feature Swarovski crystals. Both £24.99. Click here to see our full collection of jewellery and cuff links.

 

The Jazz Collection

We’re thrilled to be offering a new collection of jazz-themed homeware. The range includes a monochrome design bone china mug (£9.99) and set of coasters (£5.99), and a mug (£9.99) and coaster set (£5.99) in blue.

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And finally…

We know it’s really too early to talk about Christmas, but early bird shoppers might enjoy O Come All Ye Faithful, our new CD of favourite Christmas carols, or this charming set of musical chime bar crackers, guaranteed to liven up any Christmas dinner! £9.99 and £22.50

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Jane Austen’s Musical World

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Jane Austen, by James Andrews“Aunt Jane began her day with music – for which I conclude she had a natural taste; … She practised regularly every morning – She played very pretty tunes, I thought … Much that she played from was manuscript, copied out by herself – and so neatly and correctly, that it was as easy to read as print.”
– From the memoirs of Jane Austen’s niece Caroline, 1867

Music, and the piano in particular, were at the heart of Jane Austen’s everyday life. At the time, it was common for women to receive a musical education and playing or singing were seen as talents which could modestly be displayed in public. Men usually seem to have taken a back seat when it came to private musical performance, choosing instead to watch and hear the women of their acquaintance.

In Mansfield Park, for example, Mary Crawford ‘tripped off to the instrument, leaving Edmund looking after her in an ecstasy of admiration of all her many virtues.’ In Pride and Prejudice, Austen reveals the complex associations of piano playing by comparing Elizabeth’s performance to her sister Mary’s:

Jane Austen's home in Chawton

“Her performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.

Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well.”

For Austen herself, however, music was not merely a form of entertainment but a way of life. The Jane Austen Memorial Trust holds eight volumes of music at her house in Chawton. Three books are entirely in manuscript – hand written, on pre-ruled music paper bought from London dealers. The second two of these three are mainly in the hand of Jane Austen herself.

Excerpt from Sonata No. 2 by Johann Sterkel

The musical content of these volumes is varied. Songs, keyboard works (both solo and duet) and chamber music from the core of the collection and a drawn from a variety of sources. The contents are typical of domestic music-making of the period – and consequently include hardly any music by composers famous today.

In Jane Austen’s day, Pleyel and Sterkel were more famous than Haydn and Mozart, their music often more accessible via successful printing and distribution businesses than those of their more talented colleagues with their high-powered court appointments and operatic commissions.

Excerpt from Sonatina No. 1 by Ignaz Pleyel

In Jane Austen’s novels, the finest musicians are those with a real musicality and love of music, not those who have merely learned a good technique. However, she also frequently uses music as a metaphor to provide lessons. In Pride and Prejudice, we learn that Elizabeth naturally plays well, but we also learn that she would play really well if she were to apply herself:

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

Listen to more of Jane Austen’s musical world in Jane Austen Entertains and Jane Austen Piano Favourites.

Anne Boleyn, Lover of Music

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Anneboleyn2On 19th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was taken from her cell in the Tower of London to a wooden scaffold, where a French swordsman awaited her. Henry believed that an axe was too common an instrument to behead the Queen of England. After speaking briefly to the crowd who had gathered to watch the spectacle, Anne tucked her hair out of the way of the sword, and was beheaded in one stroke.

Apparently unable to bear Henry VIII a son, she was accused of multiple charges of adultery with five men, including her brother George and the lutenist Mark Smeaton. No one knows whether Anne was in fact unfaithful or not, but it is certain that by 1536 Henry had his eyes on another young woman, Jane Seymour.

The story of Anne’s death is a sad one, but her life was one of intrigue, excitement and colour. At a young age she joined the household of Margaret of Austria (the daughter of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor). Margaret was famous as a patron of music, and Anne would have had early exposure to high-quality music making.

Anne was soon placed in the French court, where she attended Henry VIII’s sister Mary. While she was there, it is likely that she came into contact with Claudin de Sermisy, a composer whose piece Jouyssance seems to have been written with Anne in mind. The poet who wrote the lyrics to the piece, Clement Marot, was also patronised by the French court, and he is known to have presented Anne with a personalised copy of his most famous work.

In Jouyssance, the lyrics read: “I will give you pleasure, my dear, and thus I will ensure that what you hope for ends well… but if it weighs you down, appease your hurting heart: everything will be good for those who wait.” This seems exactly to describe Anne and Henry’s situation during their extended courtship between 1526 and their marriage in 1533.

Anne Boleyn nowe thus

A reference to Anne Boleyn in MS 1070 Royal College of Music

Anne was herself a great lover of music. The Royal College of Music in London contains a manuscript music book which is thought to be owned and used by Anne Boleyn herself. The evidence for this comes in the middle of the book, where an early 16th century inscription reads “Mistres A Bolleyne nowe thus.” “Now thus” was the motto of Anne Boleyn’s father, and the fact that she is styled “mistress” suggests that this was penned before she became Queen in 1533.

Anne’s own talents also apparently included the composition of poetry. The song “O Deathe rock me asleep” is said to have been written by Anne whilst she was awaiting her execution in the tower of London. The lyrics are both vivid and tragic: “Alone in prison strong / I wait my destiny. / Woe worth this cruel hap that I / Must taste this misery.”

The contents of the Royal College of Music manuscript, along with an Elizabethan setting of “O Deathe rock me asleep”, have been recorded by Alamire on the disc Anne Boleyn’s Songbook, released by Obsidian Records. This year, the CD was nominated for a BBC Music Magazine award.

Click here to see more about Anne Boleyn’s Songbook.