British government prevents collection of 17th century lute music from leaving the country


This 285-sheet manuscript contains around 320 lute pieces and has been temporarily blocked from export from the UK in the hope that a UK buyer can raise the £214,200 needed to buy it.

A UK gallery or institution would need to raise over £200,000 to buy the musical anthology.

The 285-sheet manuscript contains approximately 320 lute pieces in French lute tablature. The contents were probably compiled and inscribed by or for its owner in the first half of the 17th century in southern Germany or Austria.

As reported in ATG issue 2517, the manuscript had sold in the September 14, 2021 Sotheby’s sale of Early Music: Rare Music Manuscripts, Printed Music and Books from the Library of Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940). It was sold at the hammer price of £170,000, but including costs and taxes, a UK buyer would have to pay £214,200.

The decision to temporarily prevent its export by its new owner follows the opinion of the Commission for the control of the export of works of art and goods of cultural interest. The committee agreed that the manuscript was key to understanding how music spread throughout Europe in the 17th century, as well as how it was produced and reproduced.

The committee made its recommendation on the grounds that the manuscript’s departure from the United Kingdom would be unfortunate as it is of exceptional importance to the study of 17th-century lute music.


Lute music manuscript

The music in the manuscript was probably compiled and inscribed by or for its owner in the first half of the 17th century in Germany or Austria.

Committee member Peter Barber said: “Little research has recently been done on this large, beautifully bound manuscript album of early lute music. Fascinating and evocative, it includes works, among many others, by both English composer John Dowland and a brother of Galileo. The volume promises to shed much light on the circulation of music, particularly lute music, the role of music-making and dance, in Western Europe as the Thirty Years’ War raged in the early and in the middle of the 17th century.

“A third of the music, or 89 tracks, can be found nowhere else. Resolutely pan-European, the volume was put together by a German, mostly written in the French style and contains music from many countries.”

The decision on the application for an export license for the manuscript will be postponed until June 13. At the end of the first deferral period, owners will have a cooling-off period of 15 business days to consider any offer to purchase the manuscript at the recommended price. of £214,200. The second deferral period will begin after signing an option contract and will last for three months.

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