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Manuscript part-books of the Ladies' Madrigal Society


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16 manuscript part-books with two to each voice: first soprano, second soprano, first alto, second alto, first bass and second bass. Each part-book contains the same 56 numbered and further madrigals and part-songs, all with English words. All but one seem to have been copied by W.S. Pratten, who also composed or arranged some of the madrigals. Other composers represented here are (in alphabetical order): Jacques Arcadelt, Jonathan Battishill, William Byrd, Thomas Crecquillon, John Dowland, Giovanni Ferretti, Orlando Gibbons, Ruggiero Giovannelli, Luca Marenzio, Claudio Monteverdi, Thomas Morley, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John Wilbye, Thomas Weelkes and others. Individual parts of a printed madrigal composed by W.S. Pratten are pasted in the relevant voice part-books.


  • Creation: 19th century


0.6 Linear metres (4 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Mus. c. 657/1].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Mus. c. 657/1-16

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15557


19th-century manuscript part-books of the Ladies' Madrigal Society.

Biographical / Historical

Little is known with any certainty about the ‘Ladies Madrigal Society’ to which this set of part-books belonged. It is unlikely to have been part of the Madrigal Society (founded by John Immyns in 1741) since women are thought not to have sung with or been admitted to that society until after World War II. According to Hobson (2015), a ‘Ladies Madrigal Society’ was founded in 1840 by John Hullah and Edward Taylor and the society features on the list of members included in the first publications of the Musical Antiquarian Society in 1841, with James King as director. However, there is evidence to suggest that the society was already in existence by 1837 and elsewhere in his thesis, Hobson gives its dates of operation as ‘1833-1841?’.

A contribution to The Musical World (25 Feb 1841) reads: ‘The Ladies Madrigal Society, of which Mr. T. Cooke is the director is rapidly gathering members and honors: they assemble every Tuesday evening at Willis's Rooms for the purpose of practice, and their meetings are equally the source of mutual pleasure and improvement. We have many institutions for the diffusion of musical knowledge among the million which we have from time to time had the great satisfaction to commend: it is with equal though very different gratification that we notice the rapid advancement of this establishment, which we look upon as a means of undermining the musical prejudices of the aristocracy, and probably of supplanting the present Italianish distaste of fashion¬able life with a relish for the pure and classical of our great old English contra¬puntists.’

The set was clearly at some point connected with William Sidney Pratten (1820-1882), an organist at St Mark’s, the Lord Mayor’s Chapel in Bristol, who may have had links with the Bristol Madrigal Society. Although women were not permitted to sing with that society either, such societies held regular ‘ladies nights’ where women were invited to listen. The part-books contain several madrigals by, and references to, W.S. Pratten, and there is a red stamp on the upper pastedown of each book: ‘H.-L.-F. Guermonprez. “Pratten Legacy” 1889’. At least one other item is known to contain this stamp and Guermonprez is thought to have acquired them from W.S. Pratten. His father, Stephen Pratten (1799-1845), was a student of A.T. Huerta and Professor of Music in Bristol. William’s brother, Robert Sidney Pratten (1824-1873) and the latter’s wife (known as Madame Sidney Pratten), were both celebrated performers, on the flute and guitar respectively. Mme Pratten was also a prolific composer of works for her instrument.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Julia Rosenthal, 1 February 2015.


  • James Hobson, Musical antiquarianism and the madrigal revival in England, 1726-1851 (PhD thesis, University of Bristol, 2015).
  • ‘Miscellaneous – The Ladies Madrigal Society’, The Musical World, vol. 15, issue 257 (25 Feb 1841), p. 125.
Manuscript part-books of the Ladies Madrigal Society, 19th century
Finding aid prepared by Jen Patterson
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom