Dr Magnus Williamson
Senior Lecturer


My research focuses upon the music of late-medieval and early modern Europe, especially in the sources and contexts of early-Tudor polyphony. My teaching reflects these interests. I teach on several music modules in music history; medieval, renaissance and baroque music; techniques of counterpoint; notation and editing.

I read music at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1990. After completing my DPhil thesis I was lecturer in music at Somerville College, Oxford, and then at Newcastle University (where I have been since 1997). 


My interest is mainly in the music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, particularly in:


  • music manuscripts (who copied them, how, where and for what purposes); 
  • printed books of chant and polyphony (how they were produced and who bought them);
  • in social and religious rituals (how they worked in practice, who participated, who didn't);
  • musical cultures, especially outside the big urban centres;
  • early organ music, both improvised and written-down;
  • the critical editing of music (I am currently General Editor of the British Academy series, Early English Church Music).

I am also active as a performer.  In 1988 I became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, while I was organ scholar at Magdalen College, and won prizes as an improviser, giving recitals in the UK and abroad. More recently, my collaboration with the Early English Organ Project and with the ESRC/AHRC-funded Experience of Worship project has drawn together my academic interests and my experience as an improviser and church musician.   

Roles and Responsibilities

Head of Research in Music

Director of Postgraduate Studies, School of Arts & Cultures

Qualifications and Awards

DPhil (Oxford): 'The Eton choirbook: its institutional and historical background' (1997)  

BA Hons in Music (first class), Magdalen College, Oxford (1990)

Fellow, Royal College of Organists, with Dixon Prize (1988)

Previous Positions

Lecturer in Music, Somerville College, Oxford (1995-7)

Director of Music, University Church of St Mary, Oxford (1992-7)

Assisting Organist, Magdalen College, Oxford (1990-1)


American Musicological Society; Royal Musical Association; Renaissance Society of America; 
Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society


French; Latin

Research Interests

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries:

  • musical contexts: social, ritual, spatial
  • loss, damage and restoration: reconstructing lacunary polyphony, re-imagining mutilated and lost spaces, melancholy and nostalgia
  • musical sources: manuscripts, chant and polyphony in print; choirbooks and partbooks, provenance and purpose; palaeography, codicology, notation, editing, formats
  • change and upheaval, reform, innovation, reaction
  • organ and choral music in early-Tudor England
  • performance, particularly improvisation

Current Work

Since the 1990s I have focused on musical sources and contexts of the late Middle Ages, mainly in Britain, but more recently in France as well. I have several on-going research projects on the soundscape of the pre-Reformation parish, the printing of music books (particularly the oft-neglected but very significant corpus of printed chant books), and the mid-Tudor composer John Sheppard, whose quincentenary more or less falls in 2015, and who is the subject a of a collaborate set of essays I am preparing with an international team of experts. Often mutually antagonistic, but culturally interconnected, Renaissance France and early-Tudor England make for interesting comparisons, not least in their divergent responses to religious change.

September 2014 brought an exciting new departure with the advent of the AHRC funded project, Tudor Partbooks, of which I am the Principal Investigator (with Dr Julia Craig-McFeely of Oxford University and DIAMM as Co-I). More details can be found on the ICMuS Research pages and the Tudor Partbooks Facebook pages. Alongside Julia and me, the core research team comprises Katherine Butler, who works as RA in Oxford, and Daisy Gibbs, who is studying for a PhD at Newcastle.  The project also provides abundant opportunities for postgraduate research students, especially for those interested in sources and polyphonic reconstruction: if you'd like to be involved please contact me.

In 2013-14 I was based in France as a research fellow at the Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance in Tours. While in France I completed various research projects on musical life and culture in France, for instance on the diocese of Le Mans (a small territory distinguished in the early sixteenth century as a particularly dynamic market for printed service books).

Future Research

Pipeline projects include:

  • musical cultures and contexts in France from the English invasion to the wars of religion (1420s-1560s)
  • spatial and acoustic experiences in medieval Europe, 1000-1500


Research Roles

General Editor, Early English Church Music 

Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome inquiries from anyone interested in pursuing research on Renaissance musical sources, North European historical contexts, sixteenth-century contrapuntal techniques, keyboard improvisation, editing, and notation. 

Recent esteem Indicators

LE STUDIUM® Research Fellow, Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, Université François-Rabelais de Tours, France

Palisca Prize for outstanding edition, American Musicological Society (2011)

Major Research Projects

Tudor Partbooks: the manuscript legacies of John Sadler, John Baldwin and their antecedents (AHRC, 2014-17): PI 

Early English Church Music: the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (AHRB, 2004-7): PI.

Undergraduate Teaching

Music History


and various historical/cultural options on subjects from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries

Postgraduate Teaching

Research methods in medieval and early modern studies

Notation and editing 

Performance practices