A phylogenetic analysis of Orlando Gibbons's Prelude in G

Windram, H. F. and Charlston, T. and Howe, C. J. (2014) A phylogenetic analysis of Orlando Gibbons's Prelude in G. Early Music, 42 (4) pp. 515-528. ISSN 0306-1078 (print) 1741-7260 (online)


Textual scholars studying the transmission history of literary texts increasingly make use of ‘phylogenetic’ computer programs from evolutionary biology, which are conventionally used for inferring the evolutionary relationships among organisms from DNA sequence data. However, very little use has been made of phylogenetic methods in studying musical traditions. We have tested the use of the methods in analysing the transmission history of 16 extant sources of the Prelude in G by Orlando Gibbons. Variations in features such as pitch, rhythm and note pattern were recorded as a ‘Nexus file’, which was analysed using the phylogenetic methods of Maximum Parsimony and NeighborNet. Statistical confidence was tested using bootstrapping. The Maximum Parsimony analysis placed the sources into four groups with strong statistical support and the NeighborNet analysis gave similar results, while indicating a linkage between members of two of the major groups. Separate analyses of passages of running semiquavers and the chordal accompaniment showed that the latter was responsible for most of the phylogenetic structure, consistent with traditional scholarship. The analysis also showed a more fundamental division into two groups, with one containing mostly early to mid-17th century sources and the other containing only more recent ones. The study shows that phylogenetic methods can be used to infer robust conclusions on the transmission history of this tradition that are consistent with conventional scholarship. These novel methods are likely to be of general applicability as a tool for music scholars.

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