A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Playford, John

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PLAYFORD, John, stationer, bookseller, musicseller and publisher, is commonly said to have been born in 1613. He was really born in 1623, as is evidenced by portraits taken at various dates on which his age is stated. He carried on business 'at his shop in the Inner Temple, near the Church door.' In middle life, probably from about 1663 to 1679 [App. p.749 "1681"], he had a house at Islington, where his wife kept a ladies' school, and afterwards, from 1680 [App. p.749 "the date 1680 should probably be 1681, as in that year his house at Islington was advertised for sale, and it is not likely that he would have set up the house in Arundel Street before getting rid of his former residence"], resided 'in Arundel Street, near the Thames side, over against the George.' His first musical publications were issued in 1652, and comprised Hilton's 'Catch that catch can,' 'Select Musicall Ayres and Dialogues,' and 'Musick's Recreation on the Lyra Violl.' On Oct. 29, 1653, he was chosen clerk of the Temple Church. In 1654 he published his 'Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick for Song and Viall.' Of that impression but one copy is now known, which was for many years in the possession of the late Dr. Rimbault, and produced 10 guineas at the sale of his library in 1877. In 1655 Playford published an enlarged edition of it, which long passed as the first. It is divided into two books, the first containing the principles of music, with directions for singing and playing the viol; the second the art of composing music in parts, by Dr. Campion, with additions by Christopher Sympson. The book acquired great popularity; in 1730 it reached its 19th edition, independent of at least six intermediate unnumbered editions. There are variations both of the text and musical examples, frequently extensive and important, in every edition. In the 10th edition, 1683, Campion's tract was replaced by 'A brief Introduction to the Art of Descant, or composing Music in parts,' without author's name, which in subsequent editions appeared with considerable additions, by Henry Purcell. The 7th edition contained, in addition to the other matter, 'The Order of performing the Cathedral Service,' which was continued, with a few exceptions, in the later editions. Five different portraits of the author, taken at various periods of his life, occur in the several editions. In 1667 Playford republished Hilton's 'Catch that catch can,' with extensive additions and the second title of 'The Musical Companion,' and a second part containing 'Dialogues, Glees, Ayres, and Ballads, etc.'; and in 1672 issued another edition, with further additions, under the second title only. Some compositions by Playford himself are included in this work. In 1671 he edited 'Psalms and Hymns in solemn musick of four parts on the Common Tunes to the Psalms in Metre: used in Parish Churches '; and a few years later, 'The Whole Book of Psalms, with the … Tunes … in three parts,' which passed through many editions. In 1673 he took part in the Salmon and Lock controversy, by addressing a letter to the former, 'by way of Confutation of his Essay, etc.,' which was printed with Lock's 'Present Practice of Musick Vindicated.' The style of writing in this letter contrasts very favourably with the writings of Salmon and Lock. In place of abuse we have quiet argument and clear demonstration of the superiority of the accepted notation. Playford published the greater part of the music produced in his day, besides reprints of earlier works. His last publication appears to have been the 5th book of 'Choice Ayres and Dialogues,' published in 1684–5, in the preface to which he says that age and infirmity compel him to leave his business to his son and Carr, the publisher's son. He died in 1693 or 94. In his will (made in 1686, proved Aug. 14, 1694) he expresses fear that owing to 'losses and crosses' his estate will disappoint the expectations of those who succeed him. His burial-place has eluded all inquiry. [See Music-Printing, vol. ii. p. 435.]

[App. p.749 "Add that he commenced business as a book publisher about 1648. His first musical publication was 'The English Dancing Master: or Plaine and easie rules for the dancing of Country Dances,' with the tune to each dance, bearing the date 1651, but really issued in or about Nov. 1650, which became very popular, and during the next 80 years, under the title of 'The Dancing Master,' ran through 18 editions."]

Henry, his second, but eldest surviving son, born May 5, baptized May 14, 1657, had for godfathers Henry Lawes and Henry Playford. He succeeded to his father's business in 1685 in partnership with Robert, son of John Carr, music publisher at the Middle Temple Gate, and one of the King's band of music. Their first publication was 'The Theater of Music,' 1685. After a few years Henry Playford removed to the Temple Change, Fleet Street, and carried on business alone. In 1698 he advertised a lottery of music books. He published several important musical works, among which were Purcell's 'Ten Sonatas,' and 'Te Deum and Jubilate for St. Cecilia's day,' 1697; 'Orpheus Britannicus,' 1698–1702; and Blow's 'Ode on the Death of Purcell,' 1696, and 'Amphion Anglicus,' 1700. In 1703 he issued proposals for publishing monthly collections of songs and instrumental music by an annual subscription of one guinea. He resided in his father's house in Arundel Street, and is supposed to have died about 1710, but the precise date cannot be ascertained. [App. p.749 "the date of Henry's death should probably be 1703."]

John, the youngest child of John Playford, baptized at Islington Oct. 6, 1665, was a printer of music. About 1681 he entered into business with Anne, widow of William Godbid, of Little Britain, and with her, and afterwards alone, printed several of the publications of his father. He died early in 1686. An elegy on his death, by Nahum Tate, with music by Henry Purcell, was published in 1687.

[ W. H. H. ]