Music from the Dow Partbooks: An Emerald in a Work of Gold

An Emerald in a Work of Gold performed by the Marian Consort under Rory McCleery and the Rose Consort of Viols is made up of some of the less common gems from the Dow Partbooks. These partbooks are collections of manuscripts contained in five sets, copied by Elizabethan scholar Robert Dow (1553 – 1588), which are now cataloged in the library of Christ Church, Oxford.

Comprised of a smoothly continuous succession of gorgeous motets, songs and fantasies for viols, the music on this Delphian disc forms a profoundly satisfying program. Works are by a broad range of Elizabethan composers; pieces by well known masters William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Christopher Tye compliment those by less known composers that include Philippe Verdelot, Nicholas Strogers and Philip van Wilder.

The music in the books, both secular and sacred, encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques popular in Dow’s time. There are passages of raw dissonance as a composer paints in music the bleak substance of a section of verse. Performances by consorts of voices or viols was pretty much dependant upon the musicians available and there is never any indication of what instruments should be used. It’s beyond the scope of this brief recommendation to address individual pieces, so instead I turn you to the two musical samples provided. The first is a motet by William Mundy, Sive Vigilem for voices alone which is followed by the consort song, A doleful deadly pang by Nicholas Strogers. Both composers were active in the middle of the Sixteenth Century.

The seven-voiced Marian Consort achieves a remarkable blend and purity of sound and the five-part Rose Consort, one of the preeminent viol consorts working today, is a pleasure to hear. This is a great album for early music devotees, but is easily accessible for anyone wishing to delve into the vast musical riches of the period.

Album Overview

For its second Delphian recording, The Marian Consort have leafed through the beautifully calligraphed pages of the partbooks compiled in Oxford between 1581 and 1588 by the Elizabethan scholar Robert Dow, to present a deeply satisfying sequence of some of their brightest jewels. Sumptuous motets, melancholy consort songs and intricate, harmonically daring viol fantasies are seamlessly interwoven, all brought to life by seven voices and the robust plangency of the Rose Consort of Viols in the chapel of All Souls College, Oxford – where Dow himself was once a Fellow.

The Marian Consort is a young, dynamic early music vocal ensemble founded in Oxford in 2007. Combining academic insight with high levels of performance practice, the ensemble predominantly explores the repertoire of Renaissance and early Baroque music with its director Rory McCleery. They are joined by the Rose Consort of Viols, which takes its name from the celebrated family of viol makers, whose work spanned the development of the English consort repertoire.


The Dow Partbooks (Christ Church, Mus. MSS 984–988) are a collection of five partbooks compiled by Robert Dow in Oxford around 1581–88. The collection includes mostly choral but also some instrumental pieces.

The Marian Consort

Taking its name from the Blessed Virgin Mary, a focus of religious devotion in the sacred music of all ages, The Marian Consort is a young, dynamic and internationally-renowned early music vocal ensemble, recognised for its freshness of approach and innovative presentation of a broad range of repertoire.

Rory McCleery, director

Rory McCleery began his musical career as a chorister at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh under Timothy Byram-Wigfield and Matthew Owens. He gained a double first in music at Oxford University as both Organ and Domus Academic scholar of St Peter’s College, subsequently completing an MSt in Musicology with Distinction in 2009.

The Rose Consort of Viols

The Rose Consort of Viols takes its name from the celebrated family of viol makers, whose work spanned the growth and flowering of the English consort repertoire. With its unique blend of intimacy, intricacy, passion and flamboyance, this music ranges from Taverner and Byrd, to Lawes, Locke and Purcell, forming the basis of the Rose Consort’s programmes.


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