For eleven years, 17th century England experimented with being a republic. Unsurprisingly, elected politicians turned out to be just as corrupt and oppressive as unelected ones, and but for John Playford, they would have robbed us of the country’s musical heritage.
THE republican Commonwealth of England ruled by Oliver Cromwell from 1649 used government legislation to suppress theatre, dancing, church music, and festivals. John Playford (1623-1686), a music publisher in London, made sure to collect as much music as he could, before it was lost for ever.
His ‘English Dancing Master’ saved dozens of traditional dances for future generations, such as ‘Mr Beveridge’s Maggot’, well-known to modern audiences from a BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
Playford was rewarded by the return of the monarchy under King Charles II in 1660, and became a celebrity music-publisher whose shop near the Temple Church in London was a gathering place for fashionable society.
Playford wrote, arranged and published more serious music as well, such as ‘The Division Violin’ (1685), expressing regret that in the later 17th century ‘all solemn musick was much laid aside, being esteemed too heavy and dull for the light heels and brains of this nimble and wanton age’.
Mr Beveridge’s Maggot
In Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” (1813), Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy become acquainted at a local dance. For the BBC’s acclaimed adaptation, the music came from John Playford’s ‘English Dancing Master’.