An English Folk-Dance Festival

Today’s pro­gramme focus­es, rather broad­ly, on the Eng­lish Coun­try Dance (ECD) – 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 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. In musi­cal terms it was the Num­ber One hit of the time, 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.

In addi­tion to more tra­di­tion­al ren­di­tions of ECD pieces today you will also hear some gor­geous orches­tral arrange­ments by the likes of Ernest Tom­lin­son, Vaugh­an Williams and many oth­er com­posers who have been inspired by hear­ing the tra­di­tion­al tunes played in a folk idiom.

Today’s pro­gramme is pre­sent­ed by Elrik Mer­lin. You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme in-world now at, or sim­ply click here to start your play­er, if your brows­er is con­fig­ured to do so. Lis­ten­ers in the Unit­ed States are encour­aged to tune in using this link:

In addi­tion you can tune in to our spe­cial high-qual­i­ty AAC trans­mis­sion at — you should expe­ri­ence an audi­ble improve­ment in the sound qual­i­ty. Note that this IS exper­i­men­tal and it may go off from time to time, it does not car­ry track-by-track meta­da­ta yet, and it is not audi­ble in-world.

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