Compiled over a period of around thirty years between the late 1620s and early 1640s, Henry Loosemore’s Organ Book (US-NYp MS Drexel 5469) transmits organ accompaniments to a selection of choral music by leading English composers of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. The MS is copied in one hand throughout (Loosemore’s own, according to Thurston Dart who surveyed and inventoried the source in 19601) and provides a snapshot of liturgical musical performance practices in use at King’s College, Cambridge during Loosemore’s long tenure as organist there between 1627 and his death in 1670.


Along with 81 pieces of liturgical choral music (full and verse anthems and several items of service music) the MS includes two enigmatic instrumental works for a mixture of string and wind instruments with organ accompaniment: A Verse for the Organ, a Sagbot & Cornute by John Coprario, and A Verse for ye Organ, a Sagbot, Cornute, & Violin by Loosemore himself. No instrumental parts for these pieces have yet come to light, and the fragmentary nature of the source materials has so far hindered their appreciation by modern performers on period instruments.

NYpL MS Drexel 5469, p. 199. A Verse for the Organ, A Sagbot & Cornute, by John Coprario. Reproduced with permission.

The two instrumental pieces, both unique to this source, are copied into the section of Drexel 5469 identified by Dart as dating from the period immediately before the suspension of Prayer Book services in English churches in 1644. He notes that the prevalence of other works by Loosemore himself (in comparison to earlier sections of the MS in which composers of national significance are well represented) suggests contemporaneity with a slowing in the of supply of new choral repertoire from other institutions, including the Chapel Royal, in the years before the Interregnum.2 However, John Coprario died in 1626, so regardless of when the pieces were copied into the MS, at least Coprario’s offering must date from significantly earlier. Despite their titles, both pieces have stylistic aspects in common with items from the fantasia-suite genre of which Coprario was an early exponent, and although both are missing the later movements, these were often based on dance forms and so their omission from repertoire designed for performance in church, as the nature of the source implies, should probably come as no surprise. The only other surviving examples of fantasia-suites for cornetts and sackbuts are two pieces by John Hingeston,3 Master of the Music at Oliver Cromwell’s private court. Although these are likely to date from somewhat later than the Drexel examples, they do survive with their instrumental parts intact. These pieces, along with further examples of early fantasia-suite compositions for violin, bass viol and organ by Coprario, have informed the reconstruction of the instrumental parts provided here, discussed in more detail below.


The appearance of instrumental pieces in liturgical organ books is rare in seventeenth-century England. Even the large collection of partbooks at Durham Cathedral,4 which transmit a significant proportion of surviving cathedral repertoire from this period, contain only two organ voluntaries, and no music survives that can be directly associated with the two cornett and two sackbut players who were in the regular employ of many English liturgical establishments throughout the first half of the seventeenth century. Recent research has established a set of performance practice parameters surrounding the use of winds in liturgical choral music in English cathedrals around this time,5 but this does not answer the question of the role that the Drexel pieces fulfilled in the King’s College soundscape to which they clearly belonged. Both Thurston Dart and subsequently Ian Payne cite a poem by Nicholas Hookes of Trinity College, Cambridge, published in 1653, that hints at the type of performance scenario in which these pieces may have been played. It is worth quoting the following entertaining excerpt:

We have good Muisck and Musicians here,

If not the best, as good as anywhere:

A brave old Irish Harper; and you know

English or French way few or non out-go

Our Lutenists; the Lusemores too, I think

For Organists; the Sack-buts breath may stink,

And yet old Brownes be sweet; o’th’ Violin,

Saunders plays well, where Magge or Mel han’t been,

Then on his Cornet brave thanksgiving Mun,

Playes in King’s Chappell after Sermon’s done:

At those loud blasts, though he’s out-gone by none,

Yet Cambridge glories in your self alone:6

The poem is addressed to a ‘Mr Lilly, Musick-Master of Cambridge’ who, by the evidence of the poem’s opening lines, was a local viol player.7 It gives a list of personnel associated with performances in King’s College after the Sunday sermon (presumably recalling a time before the suspension of choral services), and the correlation between the line-up of instruments Hookes provides and those for which Henry Loosemore wrote his Verse hints at the type of scenario in which his piece, and presumably others like it now lost, may have been heard. Dart identifies ‘Magge’ and ‘Mel’ as two violinists in the royal band of Charles I, favourably comparing the standard of violin playing available in Cambridge with that of the finest royal musicians.8 Payne identifies the sweet-breathed sackbut player as John Browne, leader of the Cambridge waits from 1641–2,9 and I suggest that ‘brave thanksgiving Mun’ could possibly be associated with Edmund Salter, also a Cambridge wait. Salter’s probate records show him owning three lutes and three cornetts at the time of his death in 1657.10 Like evidence from Durham, where the cathedral band were reported to play ‘so loud that they may be heard half a mile from the church’,11 a rather lusty performance style is implied in Hookes’ final lines.12


Given this suggestion of a performance context for the music from our first artefact, the process by which the instrumentalists involved would have interacted with their source material is key to understanding how it might have been performed. As no instrumental parts survive, these must be reconstructed from the surviving organ score. To start this process, I adopted the same procedure as Ian Payne in his transcription of Loosemore’s piece published as an appendix to Provision and Practice in 1993 (extracting instrumental parts from the individual lines of the organ score)13, but, as a cornettist, several practical problems with the solution Payne offers quickly became clear. I will discuss how I addressed these in detail below, but it is important to highlight at this stage that the key to unravelling the relationship between the organ and instruments in Loosemore and Coprario’s verses is not immediately obvious in the source materials themselves, a factor which hindered both Payne’s reconstruction, and my first attempts to address this challenge. 

2. 'Henry Loosemore's Organ Book', US-NYp MS Drexel 5469