Parthenia or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls was, as the title states, the first printed collection of music for keyboard in England. 'Virginals' was a generic word at the time that covered all plucked keyboard instruments – the harpsichord, muselaar and virginals, but most of the pieces are also suited for the clavichord and chamber organ.
Although neither the first nor second editions bear a date, Parthenia was probably published around 1612, deduced by the dedication
- 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 couple was betrothed in December 1612 and married in February 1613. Frederick and Elizabeth subsequently left England, and a further 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.
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. The book is divided into three sections, each devoted to one of its composers. There are eight pieces by Byrd, seven by Bull and six by Gibbons. The pieces chosen are indeed representative of the finest compositions of these composers: pavans, galliards, fantazias and variations. There are no liturgical pieces. The music in Parthenia is written on staves of six lines, but is peculiarly difficult to sightread as the notes are not positioned vertically in relation to their values, which has led some commentators to deduce that the work was published as a record rather than for practical performance.
The title Parthenia comes from the Greek parthenos meaning "maiden" or "virgin." The music is written for the Virginals, the etymology of which is unknown, but may either refer to the young girls who are often shown playing it, or from the Latin virga, which means "stick" or "wand", possibly referring to part of the mechanism that plucks a string in the harpsichord family of instruments. The "Maydenhead" refers to the maiden voyage or, in this case, the first printing of Parthenia. The manuscript's dedication by the publisher William Hole (first edition) opens with the phrase: The virgin PARTHENIA (whilst yet I may) I offer up to your virgin Highnesses.
Another interesting aspect is the use of "E" and "F" in both the text and the music of Parthenia. "E" refers to Elizabeth Stuart, "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.
For this was created as a wedding present to Elizabeth and Frederick. More 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.
2. Pavana Sir William Petre
3. Galiardo Sir William Petre
5. Galiardo Mris Marye Brownlo
6. Pavana Earle of Salisbury
7. Galiardo Earle of Salisbury
8. Galiardo Secundo Earle of Salisbury
10. Pavana St. Thomas Wake
11. Galiardo St. Thomas Wake
17. Fantazia of Foure Parts
18. The Lord Salisbury his Pavin
20. The Queenes Command
- Parthenia, The Harrow Replicas, Chiswick Press, London 1942
- Parthenia, edited by Kurt Stone, Broude Brothers, New York 1951
- A Reevaluation of Parthenia and its Contents, Janet Pollack, Duke University, 2001
- Manuscript Additions in Parthenia and other Early English Printed Music in America, David Greer. Music and Letters, 77 (1996), 169–82
- The Keyboard Music of John Bull, Walker Cunningham, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, 1984
- The Consort and Keyboard Music of William Byrd, Oliver Neighbour, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1978
- Orlando Gibbons and the Gibbons Family of Musicians, John Harley, Ashgate Publishing Company, Vermont, 1999