English & Scottish Country Dance

Our pro­gramme today, 25th Feb­ru­ary, focus­es, rather broad­ly, on Eng­lish Coun­try Dance – and in par­tic­u­lar on the work of John Play­ford (1623–1686/7) — and its cousin, Scot­tish Coun­try Dance, along with a range of oth­er tra­di­tion­al dance music such as Mor­ris dancing.

In addi­tion, tune in at noon or 4pm Pacific/SLT as “Where Have You Been?” re-vis­its the his­toric Sec­ond Life envi­ron­ment of Svar­ga. To learn more about Svar­ga, check out this arti­cle from last year. Plus “Engines of Our Inge­nu­ity” every four hours from 4am SLT/Pacific.

The pieces you’ll hear today range from the per­for­mances of the spe­cialised ECD musi­cal groups like the Bal­ti­more Con­sort and Bare Neces­si­ties, whose music is intend­ed to be danced to by wide­spread groups of mod­ern expo­nents of the art, to the folk dance and Mor­ris Danc­ing groups with their exu­ber­ant take on the pieces and their inclu­sion of mod­ern instru­men­ta­tion. Then, too, there are Ear­ly Music groups who treat the works as authen­ti­cal­ly as they pos­si­bly can to recre­ate the sound that might have been heard when these dances were first per­formed. And there are many others.

Coun­try dances began to influ­ence court­ly dance in the 15th cen­tu­ry and became par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar at the court of Eliz­a­beth I of Eng­land. Many ref­er­ences to coun­try danc­ing and titles shared with known 17th-cen­tu­ry dances appear from this time, though few of these can be shown to refer to Eng­lish coun­try dance. While some ear­ly fea­tures resem­ble the mor­ris dance and oth­er ear­ly styles, the influ­ence of the court­ly dances of Con­ti­nen­tal Europe, espe­cial­ly those of Renais­sance Italy, may also be seen, and it is prob­a­ble that Eng­lish coun­try dance was affect­ed by these at an ear­ly date.[16] Lit­tle is known of these dances before the mid-17th century.

These dances have been influ­ences on all kinds of musi­cians, over all kinds of peri­ods. And at the core of this music is often to be found a cer­tain John Play­ford, a Lon­don book­seller, pub­lish­er, minor com­pos­er, and mem­ber of the Sta­tion­ers’ Com­pa­ny, who pub­lished books on music the­o­ry, instruc­tion books for sev­er­al instru­ments, and psalters with tunes for singing in church­es. But he is per­haps best known today for his pub­li­ca­tion of The Eng­lish Danc­ing Mas­ter in 1651. The work list­ed over a hun­dred tunes, each with its own fig­ures. Sub­se­quent edi­tions intro­duced new songs and dances, while drop­ping others.

This was enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar, reprint­ed con­stant­ly for 80 years and much enlarged. In musi­cal terms it was the Num­ber One hit of the time. Play­ford and his suc­ces­sors had a prac­ti­cal monop­oly on the pub­li­ca­tion of dance man­u­als until 1711, and ceased pub­lish­ing around 1728. Dances from The Danc­ing Mas­ter were re-pub­­lished in arrange­ments by Cecil Sharp in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The dances turn up in var­i­ous forms right through the Vic­to­ri­an era (rep­re­sent­ed today, for exam­ple, by pieces from the Brass­works Band) and up to the present day.