Listening in 17th and 18th century London

Parallel session A2 (Chair: David Rowland)
24 Oct 2015
11:40 - 13:10
Recital Hall

Listening in 17th and 18th century London

The Harris family in eighteenth-century London: records of musical events from the Malmesbury archive

Prof. Donald Burrows, The Open University

James Harris (1709-80), father to the 1st Earl of Malmesbury, was an author (on what he would have called ‘philosophical’ topics) and an amateur musician. He was co-director of the Musical Society and the St Cecilia Festival in Salisbury, and lived alternately in Salisbury and London following his election as Member of Parliament for Christchurch in 1761. The correspondence and diaries from his family archive have much information about musical activity in London and the provinces. This paper will give some examples from the range of archive material and then concentrate on the documentation that the archive provides about private concerts in London during the period 1760-1780.

The developing social role of music in Restoration London

Isobel Clarke, Royal College of Music

Seventeenth-century Britain was the scene of a dramatic sociological change in terms of musical performance and listening environments. The London diarist Samuel Pepys is well known for his welldocumented appreciation of music, particularly in theatrical environments. However, less attention is paid to his genuine love of domestic music-making, where his musical activities included the singing and composition of madrigals; playing various instruments; and even taking lessons in order to further his own expertise. Notably, the diarist plays and sings socially with numerous professional musicians – something which would have been unheard of a century earlier, but is noted by Pepys as if it is a commonplace occurrence in mid seventeenth-century London.

Listening experiences noted in the diaries of Pepys’s contemporaries John Evelyn and Sir John Reresby support this impression of music’s changing social status in Restoration London. This paper examines these developments through an analysis of passages from the diaries of Pepys, Evelyn and Reresby, combining both musicological and social historical approaches. As well as examining the changes in domestic musical practice which are evidenced by the diarists’ listening experiences, the developing critical-listening role of the amateur enthusiast is also explored.

Pepys listens to music at the theatre: tracking changes in the verbalization of experience

Janine Wiesecke, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt, Germany

Despite the absence of modern technology, music could be encountered at so many places throughout seventeenth-century London that listening often played a dominant role in people’s everyday lives, even if they were not professional musicians. These lovers of music, like Samuel Pepys, left us diaries with accounts of their experiences that are invaluable when attempting to reconstruct practices of listening with regard to their role and meaning.

Most of what diarists wrote concerning music refers to experiences made in domestic environments. Those accounts follow similar structures: they are mostly short, factual and evaluate the performer as well as his skills rather than the music and its effect. Because listeners were simultaneously practitioners, their focus was pulled towards technical problems of performance which they faced themselves. The same modus of writing can be found in the prefaces to Playford’s music prints that were intended for domestic use. A different picture presents itself outside the home where changes like the commercialisation of musical performance through the establishment of admission fees pushed amateur performers into the role of sole listeners.

To track this development in its early stages and its influence on listening practices this paper will examine listening experiences Samuel Pepys made at the theatre. It will show how different aspects such as the performances’ effects on the listener start to emerge within the accounts and lay ground for changes in listening.