Welcome to All the Pleasures, an afternoon of entertainment and good company, sharing the music of the era of the Restoration. This was a time in Britain where the end of Puritan rule and the return of the exiled King Charles II led to a flourishing scene of new and at times hedonistic entertainment. The music and theatre of the time are characterised by a sense of fun and entertainment.
Today we are delighted to share with you this music from Britain in the Restoration, alongside some of the most influential continental European music of the time, to bring a varied and contrasting programme of music.
This music was all from the era of Rhetorical music. Its purpose was less about high ideals of art or beauty, but much more about the experiencing, sharing and evoking of the affects, or emotions. Music at this time would be most often played in informal settings, perhaps with food and drink, and certainly without the hushed reverence of modern concert-halls. In bringing our afternoon of entertainment to you this afternoon we aim to reimagine the musical entertainment of the Restoration, made fresh and new for today.
A note on composers
Henry Purcell is arguably the greatest English composer of all time and his music was recognised as being very special at the time. We start our programme with a version of the opening movements from Come Ye Sons of Arts, as restored by Dr Rebecca Herissone. The esteem in which his music was held is obvious from his epitaph: “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded.”
We then play John Barrett’s music from the play Tunbridge Walks. Relatively little is known of John Barrett. He is known to have received his musical training as a boy chorister in Chapel Royal and later worked as a church organist. He also worked as a freelance theatre composer.
As a contrast to the world of Restoration London we turn to Vienna, the centre of the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the Hapsburg family – who according to Englishman and writer on music Charles Burney were “all musical.” Franz Joseph I was a prolific composer and wrote Alme Ingrate in 1705 as part of an Easter Oratorio.
The next piece we play today is by the little known William Topham, titled “In Imitation of Archangelo Corelli.” Italian music in general, and Corelli in particular, was popular and influential in London at this time—so much so that the London attorney and amateur musician Roger North wrote: “it is wonderful to observe what a scratching of Corelli there is everywhere – nothing will relish but Corelli.” Some Englishmen went to Rome to study with Corelli, while others composed works in imitation of Corelli’s trio sonatas. These included John Ravenscroft, William Corbett, James Sherard and William Topham.
Godfrey Keller was originally from what is today Germany and little is known of his early life. He settled in London in around 1680 and composed the set of sonatas from which the work we’re playing today came, which was dedicated to Princess Anne, who became Queen two years later.
Albrici was an Italian composer who lived and worked in London in Charles II’s court for a time in the 1660s. As music composed by an Italian living in Restoration London, it serves as an interesting comparison to Topham’s Italian-style composition!
We open the second half of our programme with music by Daniel Purcell, who is thought to be either the brother or cousin of the more famous Henry Purcell. He moved to London in 1695 and composed music for more than 40 plays.
John Eccles, along with Daniel Purcell, John Weldon and Godfrey Finger, entered a competition in 1700 to set music to William Congreve’s The Judgement of Paris. Despite Eccles being the favourite, the competition was won by John Weldon and led to both Eccles and Finger leaving London in something of a huff!
Schmelzer was a composer who lived and worked in Vienna for the Hapsburg court between the 1630s and his death in 1680. He was one of the most important violinists of the period and arguably the leading Austrian composer of his generation. Today we are showcasing three very different pieces by Schmelzer.
Biber was also an Austrian composer, strongly influenced by Schmelzer, and one of the most important composers for the violin and is known to have had a much admired violin technique. The Passacaglia played today is from one of the earliest known collections of violin pieces.
As a group we are on a journey to rediscover playing of this early baroque music on instruments as close as possible to those used at the time. Unusually for baroque groups today, we play on real natural trumpets which are faithful copies of the unvented and entirely natural trumpets of the time, with the large baroque size mouthpieces. Our strings are instruments which have been modified to return them to the design of baroque strings, and played with copies of baroque bows. Woodwind instruments are copies of hoboys and bassoons of the baroque era, and again played with reeds modelled on surviving examples from the time. Percussion is as early and as faithful to what is known of early percussion from the era.
Over time we plan to explore early instruments, as far as possible without the many compromises and workarounds which are common in performance today, such as the use of trumpets with vent-holes and more modern designs of early instruments generally. By doing this we are finding the music comes to life in ways we never previously imagined.