The English Country Dance

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 Ernest Tom­lin­son (1924- ), 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 and pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with our friends at the Alexan­dri­an Free Library Con­sor­tium of Sec­ond Life. 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:

For more infor­ma­tion on the Alexan­dri­an Free Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Con­sor­tium mem­bers in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Alexan­dri­an Free Library web­site, or one of their branch­es in-world.

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