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Biography

Jane Pickering was an early 17th Century composer and lutenist, and copyist of her eponymous lute book. We know nothing of the life of its original owner ; indeed it is pure serendipity that we know her name, for the first section of the manuscript has been lost, the damage narrowly missing the folio containing her signature and a date (1616). However, Jane's manuscript still conveys a vivid impression of her musical taste, technical attainment, and even the type of instrument she owned.

If 1616 marked the beginning of Jane's copying, both her musical tastes and her lute were quite conservative. Much of her chosen repertory is late Elisabethan or early Jaco bean, and most requires a lute with only 6-courses : some 20 pieces requires a 7-course lute, and a single piece requires a fashionable 9-course instrument. Her precise and elegant hand fills the first 36 folios, beginning with a selection of duets. This is a characteristic of many didactic anthologies compiled under the guidance of a teacher, but if Jane was learning to play the lute as she filled her book she was precocious indeed, for the very first pieces reveal the hand of a practised scribe, and require some considerable technique in performance. However such a situation could explain the conservative repertory, which would be largely of her teacher's generation. Demonstrable musical accomplishment was a skill much prized in young unmarried women, and it is likely that Jane would have expected to play for her family, friends and potential suitors, as well as, one hopes, for her own enjoyment.

It appears that Jane worked on her collection fairly intensively, stopped for a period, then returned to a briefly some time latter, for her distinctive tablature hand is remarkably uniform until folio 35, whereupon it changes abruptly. Only 3 pieces are added in this later writing style, one of them a duplicate on an earlier entry. Did Jane give up her lute playing, perhaps upon marriage, an return to it later in life ? We shall probably never know.

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