Thomas Cross Jr. was the first music printer to capitalize on the growth of public musical performances in late seventeenth-century England by producing cheap, single-sheet editions of the newest and most popular songs, especially those from the latest theater productions, for audience members and others in fashionable society to buy. As England’s first specialist music engraver, he was able to produce his simple prints of individual songs unusually quickly and to sell them at a fraction of the price of the larger movable-type anthologies that remained the mainstay of established London music stationers in this period. In the absence of intellectual property laws, Cross was free to print any music he could acquire, and he soon came to be seen as a threat by composers and music stationers alike. He clearly did not enjoy good relationships with contemporary composers, and we can safely assume that they did not supply him with his source materials. Given that his prints were nearly always the first published editions of the theater songs to appear in print, how did he obtain his musical texts? This article examines the hypothesis that Cross’s engravings may have derived directly from the stage performances of the singers he names in the titles of his editions, and that they may reflect the singers’ interpretations of the music “exactly engrav’d,” as Cross claimed. Comparison of the variants in Cross’s editions with readings preserved in sources that have known connections to contemporary performance demonstrates that his prints—despite their not undeserved reputation for inaccuracy—probably preserve contemporary performing practices more closely than has hitherto been acknowledged. Their significance as sources thus needs to be reevaluated, which raises broader questions about the criteria that scholars use when making judgments about the relative authority of sources from this period.

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