Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court, 1540-1690
On 1 May 1540 six Jewish string players newly arrived from Italy were given posts at Henry VIII's court. They were probably the first violinists to set foot in England, and the group they founded became one of the country's most enduring musical institutions, serving Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians in turn. The 24 places established for it by Charles II only finally disappeared from the royal household in this century. On one level this book is a history of the first 150 years of this institution. It recognizes for the first time the central role of the court in the musical life of Tudor and Stuart England, and in doing so presents a novel and fascinating picture of the musical profession of the time. But it also explores a number of other issues, largely neglected until now. The first chapter is a new account of the origin of the violin, placed in the wider context of the development of instruments and instrumental music in the later Middle Ages. The second explains the role of music and musicians in the daily round of court life, and their dealings with the court bureaucracy. Running through later chapters is a concern to show how particular genres of consort music derive from the repertory of known ensembles at court and outside, and how the size and composition of these ensembles determined types of scoring and styles of writing. The author has examined a mass of archival material for this study, and, by relating it to the surviving musical repertory, shows how seemingly dry-as-dust documents can contribute a good deal to our understanding of music of the past, and can often have a direct bearing on how we should perform it. As befits the director of one of our leading early musicgroups, Peter Holman tackles head-on many thorny questions of scoring and performance practice raised by the English consort repertory from Henry VIII to Purcell, and reaches some startling conclusions. This book will be of interest not only to scholars of Tudor and Stuart music, but historians in general, as well as string players and anyone involved in performing music of the period.
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