The English Dancing Master: Playford & ECD

in Daily Programme

by Elrik Merlin on Wednesday, 21 October, 2015

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Today’s programme focuses, rather broadly, on the English Country Dance – and in particular on the work of John Playford (1623–1686/7).

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.

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 that 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. In musical terms it was the Number One hit of the time, and was published in several editions by Playford and his successors from 1651 until around 1728. Dances from The Dancing Master were re-published in arrangements by Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century. The first edition of The Dancing Master contained 105 dances with single line melodies. Subsequent editions introduced new songs and dances, while dropping others. The dances turn up in various forms right through the Victorian era (represented today by pieces from the Brassworks Band) and up to the present day.

One composer who was inspired by the dances when he attended a performance in 1951 of some of the works by Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Dance and Song Society was the late and deeply missed Ernest Tomlinson (1924–2015 ), a composer who featured in our programme yesterday. He was so enthused that he wrote orchestral arrangements of six of Playford’s dances as his First English Folk Dance Suite. Then in 1977 he was inspired once again while attending a performance that included one of his own works, and the result this time was his 6-part Second English Folk Dance Suite. This latter in fact includes an equal number of Playford pieces and the composer’s own compositions, in the same style. We’ll hear both today.


Today’s programme is presented by Elrik Merlin. If you are in the United States or Canada, please click here to launch the Stream Licensing player. To listen from outside North America, click here to start your player .

This programme is also available in enhanced-quality AAC. Tune in here: http://64.237.34.50:9000/stream.m3u

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