The early 17th Century saw the first printed collection of music for keyboard in England.


Parthenia or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls.

There is no other way of saying it… this is a big big moment in the history of English music.



‘Virginals’ was a generic word during this period that covered all plucked keyboard instruments – so that’s the harpsichord, muselaar and virginals, though most of these pieces can also be tinkled on the clavichord and chamber organ.

Although neither the first nor second editions are dated, Parthenia in all liklihood was published in 1612. This through deduction comes from an examination of the dedications:

To the high and mighty Frederick, Elector Palatine of the Reine: and his betrothed Lady, Elizabeth the only daughter of my Lord the king.

This betrothal was in December 1612 with the marriage in February 1613. Frederick and Elizabeth subsequently left England, and a printing in 1613 promptly changed the dedication to read: Dedicated to all the Maisters and Louers of Musick. The last printing was made in 1659.


17th Century Virginal


Parthenia contains, as the 1613 edition states, music Composed By three famous Masters: William Byrd, Dr: John Bull & Orlando Gibbons, Gentilmen of his Ma[jes]ties most Illustrious Chappell. Divided into three sections devoted to each of these great masters of the stave. There are eight pieces by William Byrd, seven by Dr John Bull and six by Orlando Gibbons. The chosen works are some of the finest compositions from these composers: pavans, galliards, fantazias and variations. There are no liturgical pieces.

Unusually, a six line stave is used for the music in Parthenia. This makes it very difficult to sightread – unless you are Glen Gould or Angela Hewitt. The notes are not positioned vertically in relation to their values. Some experts believe that this indicates that the work was published as a record rather than for whacking on the music rack for a tinkle-ready read.

The title Parthenia is derived from the Greek parthenos meaning “maiden” or “virgin.”

The music in Parthenia is written for the Virginals, whose etymology is unknown, but may either refer to the young girls often shown at their ivories, or from the Latin virga, meaning “stick” or “wand”, perhaps a reference to the plucking mechanism in the harpsichord family of instruments. The “Maydenhead” refers to the maiden voyage or, in this case, the first print run of Parthenia. The dedication in the first edition manuscript by the publisher William Hole opens with the phrase:

The virgin PARTHENIA (whilst yet I may) I offer up to your virgin Highnesses.

Interestingly there is a use of “E” and “F” in both the text and the music of Parthenia.  The “E” refers to Elizabeth Stuart and the “F” to Frederick V. The dedication has the phrase:

…these next neighbour letters E and F the vowell that makes so sweet a consonãt Her notes so linkt and wedded togeither seeme liuely Hierogliphicks of the harmony of mariage, the high and holy State wherinto you shortly must be incorporat.

Parthenia was created as a wedding present to Elizabeth and Frederick – lucky couple – can you imagine? Imagine receiving a book of ballards and dances on your nuptials day written by Oliver Knussen, Judith Weir and Mark-Anthony Turnage!

Most exciting is the Orlando Gibbons movement The Queenes Command in which he begins the piece with the notes E and F and uses these notes to start future measures or to tie measures together. Such is the genius of our Orlando. We love him. We love him with all our hearts.

Parthenia Contents:

William Byrd

1. Preludium

2. Pavana Sir William Petre

3. Galiardo Sir William Petre

4. Preludium

5. Galiardo Mris Marye Brownlo

6. Pavana Earle of Salisbury

7. Galiardo Earle of Salisbury

8. Galiardo Secundo Earle of Salisbury

John Bull

9. Preludium

10. Pavana St. Thomas Wake

11. Galiardo St. Thomas Wake

12. Pavana

13. Galiardo

14. Galiardo

15. Galiardo

Orlando Gibbons

16. Galiardo

17. Fantazia of Foure Parts

18. The Lord Salisbury his Pavin

19. Galiardo

20. The Queenes Command

21. Preludium

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