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January 2013 Lecture Recital for Immanuel's Ground Quire, Byfield, Northants.


The Innocent Diversion:
Music as Entertainment for our Georgian Forebears


Preface –– music as entertainment at home and in public in Georgian times.

Music was a major element in the lives of our Georgian ancestors: both in their worship, as the splendid Georgian Psalmody and the works of such as Croft, Boyce, Greene and many others show us: but also, absolutely, so was music for entertainment, both at home and in public places such as the theatre. In this short essay my intention is to try and say a little about music in a domestic context and also something about music as public entertainment. My period is the long eighteenth century: roughly the Glorious Revolution to the Peace of Vienna. My aim is to say something of the musical life of amateurs of music. These would be people like me, for whom music is a pleasure and relaxation, but not a profession.

I am indebted to my good friends Edwin and Sheila Macadam for asking me to undertake this task, originally in the form of a lecture with musical illustrations to Immanuel’s Ground Quire. I am also immensely grateful to Kathleen Berg for performing the music at that lecture.

Alan Morris February 2013

Music in literary sources:

When Edwin & Sheila first suggested I speak on music of the eighteenth century it was specifically in the literary context – music as described in the novels and memoirs of the time, and that is where I shall start.

There is plenty about music in novels of the time: the role of music is to move along the action of the novel and to build character. We learn much of the social context of music, but little alas of the music itself. We can also learn about the music from memoirs, letters and the personal collections of the time.


I have picked out six important novels from Georgian times, well, one published in 1848 but dealing with our period, to illustrate how novelists of the time used music in the furtherance of the action of the novel and also what we can learn – not much – about the music performed then.

Tom Jones (1749)

We all know Henry Fielding’s tale of Tom Jones “a Foundling” – his misfortunes kicked off by a dalliance with Molly Seagrim. Eventually all comes well and he marries the exquisite Sophia Western. This young lady, apart from being virtuous and beautiful, was a very accomplished performer at the harpsichord. Her taste was refined: unlike that of her father the Momersetshire squire …

Tom Jones: Book IV chapter iv Sophia Western’s harpsichord playing:

“It was Mr Western's custom every afternoon, as soon as he was drunk, to hear his daughter play on the harpsichord; for he was a great lover of music, and perhaps, had he lived in town, might have passed for a connoisseur; for he always excepted against the finest compositions of Mr Handel. He never relished any music but what was light and airy; and indeed his most favourite tunes were Old Sir Simon the King, St George he was for England, Bobbing Joan, and some others.

His daughter, though she was a perfect mistress of music, and would never willingly have played any but Handel's, was so devoted to her father's pleasure, that she learnt all those tunes to oblige him.…

This evening, when the gentleman was retired from his bottle, she played all his favourites three times over without any solicitation. This so pleased the good squire, that he started from his couch, gave his daughter a kiss, and swore her hand was greatly improved.”

Musical example: Old Sir Simon the King (Harpsichord, traditional English).

From this we learn about the character of the squire – a loveable boor – and his daughter – sweetness and light – and that country tunes were very popular with a certain segment of society …

Clarissa Harlowe (1748)

This novel, by Samuel Richardson, was published a year earlier than Tom Jones, and it is an altogether darker book. Samuel Johnson thought the novel Tom Jones  “vicious” and “corrupt”, whilst Clarissa he thought to be a very moral story. The subtitle is “… the Distresses that may attend the MISCONDUCT both of PARENTS and CHILDREN in Relation to MARRIAGE.” The plot is that Clarissa, again a wise and virtuous and accomplished young lady, is to be forced into an unwelcome marriage by her family – so she runs away and puts herself under the protection of a Mr Lovelace – who alas rapes her – described in a very remarkable passage. She pines to death. A relation, Colonel Morden, challenges Lovelace to a duel and kills him.

In volume 2 (of 8 in the old editions!) Clarissa, not yet run away, is confined by her family to her chamber: in a letter to her friend Anna Howe she describes how she sat at her harpsichord for consolation …

Clarissa Vol. 2 letter X

“I have been forced to try to compose my angry passions at my harpsichord; having first shut close my doors and windows, that I might not be heard below. As I was closing the shutters of the windows, the distant whooting of the bird of Minerva, as from the often-visited woodhouse, gave the subject in that charming Ode to Wisdom, which does honour to our sex, as it was written by one of it. I made an essay, a week ago, to set the three last stanzas of it, as not unsuitable to my unhappy situation; and after I had re-perused the Ode, those were my lesson; and, I am sure, in the solemn address they contain to the All-Wise and All-powerful Deity, my heart went with my fingers.”

Musical example: Ode to Wisdom (Song for soprano & basso continuo, taken from the novel).

Evelina, or, a young lady’s entrance into the world (1778)

This novel was written by Fanny Burney, daughter of the eminent musician and musicologist Dr Charles Burney. One might hope she would tell us something of London’s musical life. Again, the occasion of music is frequent, but never the substance.

A visit to the opera: then as now, not universally admired: remember Johnson’s definition of the “Italian opera, an exotick and irrational entertainment, which has been always combatted, and has always prevailed”:

“When the curtain dropt [at the end of the act] they all rejoiced.
"How do you like it?" – and "How do you like it?" passed from one to another with looks of the utmost contempt. "As for me," said Mr. Branghton, "they've caught me once; but if ever they do again, I'll give 'em leave to sing me to Bedlam for my pains: for such a heap of stuff never did I hear: there isn't one ounce of sense in the whole opera, nothing but one continued squeaking and squalling from beginning to end."
"If I had been in the pit," said Madame Duval, "I should have liked it vastly, for music is my passion; but sitting in such a place as this, is quite unbearable."
Miss Branghton, looking at me, declared, that she was not genteel enough to admire it.
Miss Polly confessed, that, if they would but sing English, she would like it very well.
The brother wished he could raise a riot in the house, because then he might get his money again.

And, finally, they all agreed that it was monstrous dear.”

But not a word of what the opera was, though we can gather it was Italian.

Again, another occasion:

“There was an exceeding good concert, but too much talking to hear it well. Indeed I am quite astonished to find how little music is attended to in silence; for, though every body seems to admire, hardly any body listens.”

– but nothing of the music.

There are mentions of Ranelagh, Vauxhall, Marybone, the Pantheon, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, all places where music was an essential component of the entertainment, but nowhere does Miss Burney tell us anything of the music which was performed. In describing Vauxhall, Evelina is much more interested in what went on in the dark walks. Fanny’s sister Susan’s memoirs – discussed below – tell us much more about music around 1780.

Pride & Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1815)

Jane Austen repeatedly uses music as an important part of her novel’s action – but rarely does she say much about the actual music. For example, in Pride and Prejudice she describes the musical abilities of the two sisters Elizabeth and Mary Bennet. The former sings a song or two, accompanying herself on the pianoforte. Her performance is “pleasing , though by no means capital … easy and unnaffected”. Mary on the other hand “had neither genius nor taste … though vanity had given her application.” She plays a long (by implication, boring) concerto after which she “was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs”.

Musical example The Bush aboon Traquair (Pianoforte, traditional Scotch).

This passage is all about the characters of the sisters, all we learn about music is that Scotch tunes were popular – as is indicated from the published sources.

In Emma, likewise, music is used to further the action – particularly in the anonymous gift of a piano from Mr John Churchill to Miss Jane Fairfax – whom he loves, secretly of course. Of this, the all-wise Mr Knightley says

“… the pianoforte! Ah! That was the act of a very, very young man, one too young to consider whether the inconvenience of it might not very much exceed the pleasure.”

Thus the rest of the novel.

Vanity Fair

In Thackeray’s novel music & musical instruments again play some role in the action.

As in Emma, the anonymous gift of a pianoforte, by Dobbin to Amelia, is important in establishing characters: Amelia was sure that the piano “must have come from George [Osborne, her fiancé] … Captain Dobbin [her secret lover] did not correct this error”.

We have a scene of domestic music-making at George’s home, where a Miss Swartz is being entertained by his two sisters. This lady is a West Indian heiress: Thackeray’s own illustrations strongly imply she is mulatto – is the name a clue? – but she is immensely rich and intended by George’s father to be his wife.

“The sisters began to play the Battle of Prague.

Musical example: Battle of Prague (Fortepiano, Kotzwara1).

"Stop that d—— thing," George howled out in a fury from the sofa. "It makes me mad. You play us something, Miss Swartz, do. Sing something, anything but the Battle of Prague."
"Shall I sing 'Blue Eyed Mary' or the air from the Cabinet?" Miss Swartz asked.
"That sweet thing from the Cabinet," the sisters said. "We've had that," replied the misanthrope on the sofa "I can sing 'Fluvy du Tajy,'" Swartz said, in a meek voice, "if I had the words." It was the last of the worthy young woman's collection. "O, 'Fleuve du Tage,'" Miss Maria cried; "we have the song," and went off to fetch the book in which it was.”

Musical example: Fleuve du Tage (Song for soprano with accompaniment for pianoforte by Pollett1)

“Now it happened that this song, then in the height of the fashion, had been given to the young ladies by a young friend of theirs, whose name was on the title, and Miss Swartz, having concluded the ditty with George's applause (for he remembered that it was a favourite of Amelia's), was hoping for an encore perhaps, and fiddling with the leaves of the music, when her eye fell upon the title, and she saw "Amelia Sedley" written in the corner.

"Lor!" cried Miss Swartz, spinning swiftly round on the music-stool, "is it my Amelia? Amelia that was at Miss P.'s at Hammersmith? I know it is. It's her, and— Tell me about her—where is she?"

"Don't mention her," Miss Maria Osborne said hastily. "Her family has disgraced itself. Her father cheated Papa, and as for her, she is never to be mentioned HERE." This was Miss Maria's return for George's rudeness about the Battle of Prague.”

So here we learn a little of fashionable domestic music of the early years of the 19th century. But again the role of the music is in the action of the novel. It is easy to be rude about Kotzwara’s Battle of Prague – but it was very popular and Jane Austen had a copy. And Thackeray misfired with Fleuve du Tage so far as I can tell the song dates from 1819, two years after the scene described.

Later, we hear of the opera in Brussels in 1815 and of that famous ball, but nothing of the music performed. We do learn that Captain Osborne’s regiment marched out to the tune The girl I left behind me.

Musical example: The girl I left behind me (Pianoforte, traditional English).

Letters and Memoirs

These, though obviously recording what happened rather then the product of the imagination of a novel’s author, can also be frustrating because the memoirist is often more interested in recording the elegant conversation with honoured guests at the musical soirée than discussing the music performed.

Alas there is no Pepys of the time to provide tidbits: the great gossip of the eighteenth century, Horace Walpole, professed himself uninterested in music. But one can pick out two exceedingly important sources for musical life in Georgian times: the memoirs of the Burney daughters Fanny & Susannah and Jane Austen’s MSs. Of the two, Jane Austen is really the more important to us as the Burneys were a family very much involved in professional music in the capital whilst Jane was more the middle class amateur in the country: she will tell us more about every-day people and their music.

But the Burney memoirs – especially Susannah’s – portray an incredibly vibrant domestic musical life. All the time, professional musicians from all over Europe are visiting her father and playing in his drawing room. Susannah tells much about the music: who played what – and how well they did it. She herself took part, accompanying others on the piano – extemporizing from a bass line – & herself singing. The range of composers and musicians known to her was extraordinary: Abel, Arne, Attwood, Christian Bach, Emmanuel Bach, Bertoni, Cimarosa, Clementi, Cramer, Dance … Handel (of course) Haydn, Hook, Linley, Millico (mentioned in Evelina) … Panchierotti, Rauzzini and many others who – like most of these – are today completely unknown but who then were very much admired.

Susannah was also a regular at the opera, often going to rehearsals: she was without mercy in her criticisms of the band (n.b. at that time there were no clarinets): of a horn player: “stupid earless wretch” a bassoon player “dreadfully and ridiculously out of tune”. She recounts an occasion when Cramer3 (the band leader) “stopt [the band] again, and Clementi4 [the harpsichordist], to point out in the most forcible manner Why [Cramer] did so, play’d over the passage with natural notes in the treble, and flat in the Base – [this] produced the best imitation of their accompaniment that can be conceived.”

(Here, Clementi would have been Muzio whose compositions are still played, and Cramer would have been Wilhelm, whose sons Francois & Jean-Baptiste were both eminent musicians in nineteenth century London – J.-B.’s piano studies are still used.)

Musical example: Les Dawson-style piece for harpsichord.

Jane Austen played the piano, as did all middle class women of her time. (The generations before, going back to the Tudors, played the harpsichord, but by the 1790s that instrument was old-fashioned.) Much of the music she played has survived at Chawton. Most of it was printed music bound together in 4 volumes – each of them signed by Jane – and there are 2 more volumes copied out by Jane herself, and so we can be very confident all this was music she played. Many of the pieces are songs or keyboard solos, quite a few are dances – we know how often they danced in their drawing rooms to the pianoforte, so doubtless there were occasions when Jane played for the dancing.

Again most of the composers are pretty much unknown to us – Arne, Dibden, Hook, Jackson (of Exeter) Linley, Relfe, Schobart (NOT Schubert) Shield, Sterkel, Storace. Apparently the music is agreeable but not of a very high standard. A selection of 40 or so items can be found at: http://dspace.flinders.edu.au/dspace/handle/2328/15193

One typical example is The Soldier’s Adieu by Dibdin5 – a reminder that for all of Jane’s adult life we were at war with France. The original song speaks of a soldier but Jane in her MS altered this to sailor – two of her brothers were in the navy.

Musical example: The soldier’s adieu (Song with pianoforte accompaniment by Charles Dibdin )

One other source of information on musical life in Georgian times is Gainsborough’s letters and the memoirs of his friend the composer William Jackson (of Exeter!). The celebrated portraitist was a keen amateur musician, and his favourite instrument was the bass viol. In a letter to Jackson he says:

“[I] wish very much to take my viol da gam, and walk off to some sweet village where I can paint landskips, … My comfort is that I have five viol da gambas, three Jayes, and two Barak Normans.”

Amongst Gainsorough.’s other musical friends were Carl Friedrich Abel, the gambist, whose music he presumably played (as I do), Johann Christian Bach (youngest son of JS) and the oboist Johann Fischer, who became his son in law. His friends did not, alas, have a high opinion of his musical abilities: according to Jackson, “he never had application enough to learn his notes”; and an anecdote of Bach has him coming across Gainsborough trying to play the bassoon:

“Put it away, man; put it away! Do you want to burst yourself, like the frog in the fable? … - it is the veritable braying of a jackass!”

Gainsborough takes up a clarionet “Baw baw” exclaimed the musician “worse and worse, tis as a duck by Gar!”

His daughter Mary tells us he was “much led into the company of musicians, with whom he often exceeded the bounds of intemperance… being occasionally unable to work for a week afterwards.” – some binge.

Published music.

Moving from literary sources, the best guide to what music was performed comes from the published music, of which vast amounts survive. We can find this in on-line sources such as the Petrucci Music Library (IMSLP), what is for sale in the antiquarian book trade (vide Abebooks), the great music libraries such as at the RCM, and old private collections such as Jane Austen’s.

There are songs and pieces for one or two solo instruments, usually in score with a figured bass, (Corelli, Oswald, Handel …) This music (not cheap!) was aimed at the “middling sort” of people to perform at home, those that could afford a keyboard instrument:6 a harpsichord or a (cheaper) spinet, later a square piano, very rarely an organ for accompaniment. It was often music that had been heard at the ball, or in the theatre, or at one of the several pleasure gardens where music was a key part of the entertainment: for example, Arne’s “Where the bee sucks” “as lately sung by Mrs Clive at Vauxhall Gardens”.

An excellent example is the collection of songs Orpheus Britannicus, a compendium of Purcell’s songs re-published in the early 18th century,

Musical example: If music be the food of love (Song by Henry Purcell7with basso continuo).

And for an example of instrumental music we have James Oswald’s  A Curious Collection of Scots Tunes for a Violin, Bass Viol or German flute, with a Thorough bass for the Harpsichord published in 1740.

Musical example: Will you to Flanders? (Piece for recorder by James Oswald).

Larger pieces for more ambitious amateurs and for professional bands were published in plenty – symphonies, or as they were often termed at the time “overtures” (e.g. Boyce’s string symphonies), concertos (Avison’s adaptations of Scarlatti), glees (see below) and the like.

For dancing there was of course Playford’s collection9.

Public Entertainments

Much survives from the eighteenth century about public performance of music. There were not really concert halls as we know them today, or they were just starting (e.g. the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, built in 1748) but there were public performances of music in assembly rooms, taverns, pleasure gardens and of course theatres.

Dancing: People danced at the drop of a hat: four couple in a large drawing room, dancing to a piano and perhaps a violin and ‘cello, up to large public balls in say the Bath Assembly Rooms with big violin bands with horns and flutes. The old formal balls of dances for soloists or two or three individuals – minuets and the like – were long dead, and all were country dances in the eighteenth century – dances “for participation rather than demonstration”. Playford is the best known source of music for country dancing but the last edition was published about 1730 – not that it wouldn’t have been used long after that – but well before the end of the century new dance music was being published, for example the Duke of Kent’s waltz. (The waltz then was a country dance, albeit in 3 time, certainly not a dance where the gentleman clutches close the lady.)

Musical example: Duke of Kent’s waltz (fortepiano).

Concerts were given at assembly rooms and pleasure gardens. These comprised mixed instrumental and vocal music – for example at Vauxhall on 26th June 1793 there was a concert of “overtures” (symphonies) by Haydn & Bach (John Christian) and several solo songs – and – glees. The band again was large – violins, flutes, horns, by then clarinets – and there was a big organ: these were accommodated in bandstands. The audience either strolled along the promenades or hired supper boxes whilst listening, so it was rather informal, but there is no doubt from the quality of the music, and of the performers, that the standards were high.

A very favourite piece was Arne’s10 Where the bee sucks.

Another was The Lass from Richmond Hill – Hook11  composed this in 1790 – the lass in question was from Richmond Yorkshire:

“This popular song was written by Leonard McNally … in honor of Miss Janson … of Richmond Hill, Leybourne, Yorkshire, a lady to whom he was married at St. George's, Hanover Square, on the 16th of January, 1787.”
(from A letter published in the London Times, and dated from the Garrick Club, March 30, 1856, signed "The Grandson of the Lass of Richmond Hill.”)

And – The lass with the delicate air: (Arne, Michael12) not to mention Rule, Britannia (Arne, senior)!

Musical example: Medley of these pieces (harpsichord).

The opera – at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the King’s Theatre and the Haymarket – was popular through the century. There was the Italian opera which despite the strictures of Evelina’s friends was flourishing, written by Italians such as Rauzzini and Piccini (NOT Puccini). And of course there was Handel and many others. In the latter part of the century there were also operas in English, through-composed with recitatives in the Italian style such as Arne’s Artaxerxes (1762): or with dialogue but still with elaborate big scale arias such as Storace’s Siege of Belgrade (1791)13  – Storace had been in Vienna and knew the German singspiel  such as Magic Flute. And there were the so called ballad operas which had dialogue interspersed with simple folk song-like airs. Of the ballad operas – which were legion e.g. by Shield, Dibdin and which (alleged by Wikipedia) gave rise to singspiel and Gilbert & Sullivan – the best known by far is The Beggar’s Opera14  of 1728: the story is of the love of a highwayman, Macheath, for Polly: her parents – for money! – betray Macheath who is sentenced to hang – but is reprieved & they live happily ever after (this is after all the eighteenth century, when even King Lear had a happy ending). We do of course all know the song Macheath and Polly sing together after he is “betray’d, and about to be took”:

MACHEATH: O pretty, pretty Poll.

POLLY: And are you as fond as ever, my Dear?

MACHEATH: Suspect my Honour, my Courage, suspect any thing but my Love!–– May my Pistol miss Fire if I ever forsake thee!

POLLY: Nay, my Dear, I have no Reason to doubt you! Were you sentenc'd to Transportation, sure, my Dear, you could not leave me behind you!–– could you?

MACHEATH: Is there any Power, any Force that could tear me from thee? You might sooner tear a Fee from a Lawyer, a Woman from a Looking glass!


Musical Example Over the hills and far away (duet, soprano and tenor with harpsichord, trad. English).

MACHEATH: Were I laid on Greenland's Coast,
And in my Arms embrac'd my Lass;
Warm amidst eternal Frost,
Too soon the Half  Year's Night would pass.

POLLY: Were I sold on Indian Soil,
Soon as the burning Day was clos'd,
I could mock the sultry Toil
When on my Charmer's Breast repos'd.

MACHEATH: And I would love you all the Day,

POLLY: Every Night would kiss and play,

MACHEATH: If with me you'd fondly stray

POLLY: Over the Hills and far away.
Yes, I would go with thee. But oh!!–– how shall I speak it? I must be torn from thee. We must part.

Music clubs, music in taverns: there were societies for the revival of ancient music, Madrigal clubs – and glee clubs, mixtures of amateurs and professionals performing in taverns for their own pleasure. In London the Academy of Ancient Music and the Madrigal Society were formed to perform music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: for example the Academy sang Palestrina’s Sicut cervus in 1733 and in the 1740s the Madrigal Society were singing Gesualdo! Glees were published by the hundred between 1770 & 1820, composed by amongst many others by Warren, Webbe, Wellesley15, again names unknown to us today. Glees were performed one to a part and we can see they are lineal descendents of madrigals, in fact more Italian then English as they are through-composed. Some of them are extremely fine works, such as Wellesley’s Orpheus with his lute.

Musical example: Orpheus with his lute (Glee SATB by Garret Wellesley).

Interestingly the clubs were often all men (choirboys were hired in for the treble line), The glees can have absolutely obscene words, for example on the death of the Earl of Lincoln “buried in a count-ry churchyard”: some publishers indicated that in their glees “The Words … will not offend the nicest Delicacy” of ladies: on the other hand at least one collection Appollonian Harmony advertised on Abebooks (for £800) has contemporary water colours “made with some skill by a talented and uninhibited illustrator” to enhance When the full organ and Sweetly let's enjoy. Double entendre was alive and well in the 18th century.

Iconographic evidence – pictures from the time

A picture is worth a thousand words – alas pictures of musicians do not tell us what music they are playing. But they can tell us about the instruments used and the social circumstances of music-making. I have chosen four paintings by Johann Zoffany, a German living and working in England from 1760 until his death in 1811, to give a feeling of music making by the wealthy. These are of a genre known as “conversation pieces” – pretty much a self explanatory term – where several people are grouped together involved in some activity – it may be tea drinking, literally a conversation, or as in these, making music.

For copyright reasons I am not putting the pictures here but they are easily found via Google images.

1. Zoffany with his daughter and his friends Cervetto the ‘cellists. Giacobbe Cervetto was a well known cellist in mid 18th century London. Here he is the older man (he died aged 101!) listening to his son James, also a well-known musician, mentioned by Susannah Burney. James is using thumb position, a very advanced technique for the time. I have some of his sonatas which I cannot play.

2. Dancing: (“circle of Zoffany” – it doesn’t have the usual high finish of Z.’s paintings.) It is entitled “The minuet” and is an exquisite depiction of, I suppose, a brother and sister dancing to a single flute. The two dancers are making their reverence with the flautist about to play. Note the square piano against the wall.

3. Earl Cowper and his friends the Gore family. This epitomises family music making in the later years of the 18th century. Miss Gore, behind the piano, is about to sing: her sister is going to accompany with their father playing the basso on his ‘cello (“What d…n key am I supposed to be playing in?”). Miss Gore’s betrothed, Earl Cowper, looks on lovingly (she was sixteen) whilst two other ladies are quietly occupying themselves in the background. By-the-way I have never seen a square piano with the wood grain running vertically, though this was the style with harpsichords.

3. Granville Sharp (in the green coat) and his friends. The Sharp family regularly performed upon their barge at Fulham (All Saints’ Church in the background). Note the instruments: horns, ‘cello, recorders (actually flageolets) – clarinet! and – serpent! G# (so he signed himself) was well known as a skilled amateur musician and he was an early and prominent campaigner for the abolition of slavery.

To conclude

This short survey of musical entertainment in the eighteenth century has I hope shown that our ancestors had a vigorous musical life, both at home and in public. Unlike the present day many were active participants in music, not merely passive listeners the behemoth of industrial music. Nearly all the music enjoyed in the eighteenth century in England – except that of Handel, Purcell and bits & pieces of one or two others – is unknown to us today. We must rediscover this delightful musick.

Main sources

The internet e.g. for Jackson of Exeter’s “The four ages” and “Reminiscences” by Henry Angelo.
Wikipedia of course!
Google images.
The novels mentioned, usually in the Everyman edition.
“The Letters and Journals of Susan Burney” (ed. P. Olleson Ashgate 2012).
“The Innocent Diversion – Music in the life and writings of Jane Austen” by Patrick Piggott (Clover Hill, London 1979).
“Vauxhall Gardens: a History” by D. Coke and A. Borg (Yale UP 2011).


1 Frantisek Kotzwara 1730 – 1791. The Battle of Prague in question took place in 1757. Kotzwara’s later career was in London where he died apparently of erotic asphyxiation.

2Benoit Pollet 1753-1823. It is very hard to find anything about this man or the origin of the song but Pollet appears to have published his arrangement in 1819.

3Wilhelm Cramer, 1746-1799, whose sons François & Jean-Baptiste were both eminent musicians in nineteenth century London – J.-B.’s piano studies are still used.

4Muzio Clementi, 1752-1832, a composer for the piano, whose works are still performed, and manufacturer of pianofortes.

5Charles Dibdin 1745-1814. Apparently Dibdin wrote more than a thousand songs, many of a patriotic nature, and dozens of stage pieces. This present song was written for his entertainment called “The Wags, or The Camp of Pleasure.”

6Spinets were the cheapest: these were small, singly strung instruments with the strings running parallel to the keyboard: a plain instrument could be had for about 5 guineas. Harpsichords were bigger, with two or three sets of strings running at right angles to the keyboard: the big, elaborately decorated, double manual instruments were very expensive, say a hundred guineas. Spinets and harpsichords, both plucking instruments, were made at least into the 1780s. Pianofortes (also occasionally known as fortepianos), in which the strings are hammered, were first made in England in the 1760s. By 1800, they had completely displaced harpsichords. The first pianos were “square” or rather rectangular, about five feet long with the keyboard on one of the long sides. The strings run parallel to the keyboard. Grand pianos, essentially the same shape as modern pianos but slimmer, came in rather later than the squares. A square piano would cost up to 30 guineas (that’s what Mr Churchill paid Broadwood for Jane Fairfax’s instrument): and a grand up to 100. To put these prices into context, one could keep a family on 100 guineas a year in 1800, so that is about the equivalent of the average salary in the UK today: £25,000? – the price of a grand piano.
7Henry Purcell 1659-1695. Songs by Purcell were re-published throughout the eighteenth century. One of the few remarks that Horace Walpole made about music was that he admired the “solemnity of Purcell’s music” (letter to Lady Ossory 11/08/1778. Alas by the end of the eighteenth century Purcell’s reputation was overcast: Charles Burney said that  his “style was now [1789] unfashionable, and [his] melodies are uncouth and ungraceful” but “few can hear his Mad-Bess well sung without being infinitely affected” – from his General History of Music. Burney also says “Music was manifestly on the decline, in England, in the seventeenth century till it was revived and invigorated by Purcell, whose genius, tho’ less cultivated and polished, was equal to that of the greatest masters on the continent” (Burney. Op. cit.)
 8James Oswald, 1710–1769. Although born in Scotland, Oswald made his career in London, as did many ambitious Scotchmen, becoming chamber composer to the King. He published prodigious numbers of pieces for various instruments and also songs (for example Colin’s Kisses). He often used the pseudonym David Rizzo (!)

9Vide Wikipedia

10 Thomas Augustine Arne 1710-1778 the best and best known English composer of the generation after Handel. His notorious song Rule Britannia from the Masque of Comus (loosely based on Milton) is still performed.
11 James Hook 1746-1827. Really super.

12Michael, 1740 – 1786, was Thomas’ son. Also really super.
13Stephen Storace 1762-1796. It should be possible to reconstruct this English singspiel – both the libretto (i.e. the full text) and the vocal score (the bits that are sung) of the Siege of Belgrade are available on line. There are endless revivals of Gilbert and Sullivan so why not older English operas?
14Vide Wikipedia.

15Garret Colley Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington 1735-1781, father of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.



Courtly music in England about 1500 - given at Gainsborough Old Hall on Saturday and Sunday 12th/13th July 2014

Courtly music in England around 1500

 “Courtly music” implies that music which was heard at royal and imperial courts: bishops’ and popes’ palaces. In England, those who performed this music were described as “minstreles” in the fifteenth century: but these were not itinerants, wandering from place to place in search of a crust of bread in exchange for a few raunchy songs on the hurdy gurdy or whatever. They were educated and trained musicians as we know from a (charter of 1469 granted by King Edward IV to his "beloved minstrels", on complaint that "certain ignorant rustics and craftsmen of various callings in our Kingdom of England have falsely represented themselves to be Minstrels". Most of these minstrels were of course men: but there are a few mentions in old sources of professional singing women.


These King’s musicians were all well-paid servants, and there were many of them, 20 or 30 at Edward IV’s court. There is ample information about the King’s minstrels: we know the names of many, and the instruments they played. They would also have sung. In addition the Chapels Royal would have had a separate establishment of singers and instrumentalists, especially organists.


Establishments of the nobility and gentry would surely have also had musicians – after all they aped their betters. We know that the great of the land kept chapels with singers, documented for example in the case of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Presumably they kept their own minstrels to entertain them at dinner and to provide pomp at ceremonies – and of course trumpets and drums for war. To what extent the lesser gentry such as Sir Thomas Burgh – wealthy but nowhere near so rich as the Earl of Warwick – kept a musical establishment is simply not known but surely they had some musicians.


What music did these musicians perform? Alas, sadly little English music of that time survives, and that mostly sacred. This is of course because music was in manuscript, held by institutions such as monasteries and was actively destroyed at the time of the reformation (it was of course catholic music) or has simply rotted away. For example only two pieces by one Gilbert Banaster survive: he lived from 1430 to 1487 and was the chief musician of his time, being master of the Chapel Royal under three kings. The fate of secular music was even worse. It would have been written down (if at all) in rough copies and who keeps last year’s pop music?


But courtly music in England would not have been only English music. Musicians, and the noble folk they performed for, travelled throughout Europe, and were familiar with music composed there. All three kings of our period – Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII –  spent time in exile at the courts of Burgundy and France. And foreign musicians – particularly from the Netherlands, which was the major centre for music at the time –  worked in the English court, obviously performing their own music.


So to illustrate courtly music in England we draw on both English and continental collections of music: music that would have been heard by Kings, the Emperor, the Pope and the great princes of Europe: and perhaps also the Lincolnshire gent Tom Burgh.


Enforce we us: this anonymous English 15th century song is recorded in a MS compiled at Henry VIII’s court. It deals with three favourite topics of the time: St George the Virgin Mary and Agincourt.


Matona mia cara: the composer of this song was one of the greatest composers of the early 16th century: Rolandus Lassus. He worked chiefly at the princely court of the Duke of Bavaria, but travelled widely, even to England.


Converte nos: Lorenz Lemlin served the Elector Palatine in Heidelberg in the early years of the 16th century. This is his setting of psalm 85:  “Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.”


Innsbruck: this song is from the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, possibly written by his court musician Heinrich Isaac about 1500.


Somewhat musing: by Robert Fayrfax, this English song is recorded in a manuscript compiled by him about 1500 in Lincolnshire but is in a style more typical of the 1470s. Fayrfax was born in Deeping Gate in 1464 and was one of Margaret Beaufort’s musicians before moving to the court of her son Henry VII.



El grillo: another of Isaac’s secular songs.


O Venus bant: this variation on the Dutch song was composed in the low countries before 1500 by Alexander Agricola who ended his life as composer to Philip le Bel Duke of Burgundy.


Ave verum corpus: this Latin hymn “Behold the true body” was sung at the elevation of the host during mass. It was set by many composers: this is by Josquin des Pres, born in 1450 in the Netherlands. He was a member of the Papal Chapel: during his lifetime and for many years after he was regarded as the greatest ever composer.


Rodrigo Martinez: an anonymous Spanish song from the 15th century, recorded in a Spanish MS compiled before 1500.


La Danse de Cleves: this is an anonymous basse dance, originating in Burgundy. Its steps and music are recorded in an MS from Brussels [Anne d’Autriche] compiled prior to 1500. 


Extract from Mass The Western Wind: John Taverner was a Lincolnshire man who made his career with Cardinal Wolsey at what is now Christ Church College in Oxford. His heyday was the 1520s. Now he is most famous for his 5 part mass “The Western Wind”. This illustrates  a compositional technique of the time – the use of a popular melody to provide the harmonic basis of a much larger work.

Esperans: a dance from the Gresley manuscript: this was compiled in Derbyshire about 1500 but much of the music in it is older. This, like the Brussels MS, contains both dance steps and music. 

La Chasse  and Amoroso: the gentry are definitely letting down their hair!


Lincoln Friends’ Meeting House Programme 18th May 2014

Merrily Danced the Quaker

We call ourselves Musick Rediscover’d, and we present music from medieval times to the late 18th century. There is evidence that some people from the 18th century were interested in reviving the music of earlier times, and we aim to recreate this “looking backwards” as well as playing the music which fits with the clothes we are wearing today.

We have also looked into music which has a connection with the Quakers. We could not find out much about the attitude towards music of the founder, George Fox, who died in 1691. But he has been  quoted as saying that secular music stirred up people to vanity. In general it was to take until the 19th century for most Quakers to accept and use music.


Solomon Eccles (1618 – 1683) came from a musical family but was an early convert to Quakerism, and he renounced his former involvement with music. Despite their father’s displeasure Eccles’ two sons, John and Henry, became musicians who wrote a great deal of secular music.


The jolly jolly breeze (John Eccles)


We continue with two settings of John Donne’s well-known poem A Hymn to God the Father. The contrasting musical styles of John Hilton (from the Jacobean period) and Humfrey (Restoration) can be clearly heard – Hilton’s is contemplative and Humfrey’s dramatic.


Wilt thou forgive that sin (John Hilton)

Wilt thou forgive that sin (Pelham Humfrey)


There was much displeasure in 17th and  early18th century within the church about setting the psalms to metrical tunes, which used specially written re-workings of Biblical texts, in particular those of Sternhold and Hopkins.


The humble sute of a sinner (Example from Este’s Psalter)


There was also discontent about the way the parish churches used music to stir up people’s emotions, including of course the music known today as Georgian Psalmody (or West Gallery Music)


Come thou fount of every blessing (Brailes)


Secular music may have been discouraged at first, but some tunes survived which were associated with the Quakers, such as So merrily danced the Quaker, first appearing in 1786 as a song, but can be traced back earlier than this as a military march for fifes and drums.


Merrily danced the Quaker


Charles Dibdin was a well-known composer in the 18th century whose songs were very popular at the Vauxhall Gardens entertainments. He wrote a comic opera called The Quaker, which was performed in 1775 at the Drury Lane Theatre and again in Philadelphia in 1794. The libretto tells the story of a young girl, Gillian, whose parents are persuaded by a rich Quaker to let here become his wife. She finds him staid and not to her liking. The other problem is that she is in love with Lubin, a man of her own age. But eventually the Quaker gives his blessing on them both and withdraws his suit and all is well.


Extract from the dialogue:

Mr. Steady (the Quaker). And why, young maiden, wilt thou not listen unto me? Have I not, for thy pleasure, given into all the vanities in which youth delights? I tell thee, that altho’ my complexion be saturnine, my manners are not austere; why therefore likest thou not me?

Gillian: I should like you very well if you were my father, but I don’t like you at all for a husband.

S. And wherefore, I pray you?

G. Oh, there are reasons enough.

S. Which be they?

G. Why, in the first place, I should want you to change your cloaths, and to have you as spruce as I am.

S Rather do thou change those thou wearest, unto the likeness of mine. The dove regardeth not the gay plumage of the gaudy mackaw, and the painted rainbow delighteth our sight, but it vanishes away, yea, even as a vapour. What more?

G. Why, in the next place, I would want to change your age, and have you as young as I am.


Overture from The Quaker

I said to myself (Aria from The Quaker)

Gavotto Rondo (instrumental interlude from The Quaker)


George Fox travelled in America and there is a good Quaker tradition there. Haverford College have a strong presence on the internet and tell the story of David Bispham, known as the Quaker singer. He was born in Philadelphia in 1857. Because the playing of instruments was not allowed he did not get to play the zither, guitar and banjo, all of which he loved playing, in 1872 at his first concert. However as things became more relaxed he developed his musical programme in grand style. He went on to include medieval music by the Troubadours and Minnesingers in his concert in 1900.


Winder wie ist nu dein kraft (medieval German)

C’est la fin (medieval French)


And also he included arias from French, German and Italian operas and oratorios


Dove sei (Handel, from Rodelinda)
Bois epais (Lully, from Amadis)


There was opera in England too and a wealth of dramatic solo songs.


Who knocks at my heart (Daniel Purcell)


We end with three pieces from the Quaker Songbook.


Love is come again
God moves in a mysterious way
Vine and fig tree



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