400th anniversary of first music degree from TCD

This month marks the 400th anniversary of the first Bachelor of Music degree awarded by the University of Dublin, in October 1612. The recipient of this degree is not recorded, but circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that it was Thomas Bateson (d. 1630), organist and vicar choral at Christ Church Cathedral since 1609.

Music was not taught in the College at this time, so Dublin University is likely to have followed the practice already established at Cambridge and Oxford of awarding the degree to a distinguished musician of proven ability, perhaps on submission and performance of a suitable composition.

To celebrate this anniversary, two music publications from the period are currently on display in the foyer of the Berkeley Library, TCD. The first is ‘A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke’ by Thomas Morley (London, 1608). This was the first book on music theory to be published in the English language, and was amongst the earliest books purchased for the Library in the first decade of the 17th century.

Also on display is John Dowland’s ‘First booke of songes or ayres’ (London, 1603), which has particular significance because of its innovative ‘table-book’ format which allowed the singers to read from a single copy while seated around a table. Five editions of this collection appeared between 1597 and 1613, making it the most successful musical publication of its time.

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