Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Playford, John

PLAYFORD, JOHN (1623–1686?), musician and publisher, the younger son of John Playford of Norwich, was born in 1623. He became known as a music publisher in London about 1648 (Hawkins), and from February 1651-2 until his retirement his shop was in the Inner Temple near the church door. Playford was clerk to the Temple Church, and probably resided with his wife Hannah over the shop until 1659. He was, it appears from the title-pages of his publications, temporarily in partnership with John Benson in 1652, and with Zachariah Watkins in 1664 and 1665. Under the Commonwealth, and for some years of Charles II's reign, Playford almost monopolised the business of music publishing in this country. His shop was the meeting-place of musical enthusiasts; Pepys was a frequent customer.

Although he published separately the works of the chief composers of the day, Playford's fame mainly rested on his collected volumes of songs and catches. He showed in his choice of publications a welcome freedom from prevailing prejudices. He issued 'The Dancing Master' during the Commonwealth, and the result justified his courage. In Restoration days, on the other hand, he endeavoured to encourage serious tastes. In 1662 he dedicated the 'Cantica Sacra' to Queen Henrietta Maria. He regretfully observed in 1666 that '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,' and he therefore ventured to 'new string the harp of David' by issuing fresh editions of his 'Skill of Music,' with music for church service, in 1674, and in 1677 'The Whole Book of Psalms' in which he gave for the first time the church tunes to the cantus part.

In typographical technique Playford's most original improvement was the invention in 1658 of 'the new-ty'd note.' These were quavers or semiquavers connected in pairs or series by one or two horizontal strokes at the end of their tails, the last note of the group retaining in the early examples the characteristic up-stroke. Hawkins observes that the Dutch printers were the first to follow the lead in this detail. In 1665 he caused every semibreve to be barred in the dance tunes; in 1672 he began engraving on copper plates. Generally, however, Playford clung to old methods; he recommended the use of the lute tablature to ordinary violin players; and he resisted, in an earnest letter of remonstrance (1673), Salmon's proposals for a readjustment of clefs. Playford's printers were: Thomas Harper, 1648-1652; William Godbid, 1658-1678; Ann Godbid and her partner, John Playford the younger, 1679-1683; John Playford alone, 1684-1685.

By 1665 Playford and his wife had removed from the Temple to a large house opposite Islington Church, where Mrs. Playford kept a boarding-school until her death in October 1679. In that year the school was advertised in the second book of Playford's 'Choice Ayres;' in 1680 it was announced for sale in 'Mercurius Anglicus' of 5-8 May (cf. Smith, Protestant Intelligence, 11-14 April 1681). In the meantime, by November 1680, Playford had established himself in a house in Arundel Street 'near the Thames side, the lower end, over against the George.' He suffered from a long illness in that year, and, feeling his age and infirmities, he left the cares of business to his son Henry (see below), but not without a promise of assistance from himself. He brought out, in his own name, a collection of catches in 1685; 'The Dancing Master' of 1686 was the last work for which he was responsible. He apparently died in Arundel Street about November 1686. His will was written on 5 Nov. 1686, neither signed nor witnessed, and only proved in August 1694, the handwriting being identified by itnesses. He was probably buried in the Temple Church as he desired, although the registers do not record his name. Henry Purcell and Dr. Blow attended the funeral. Several elegies upon his death were published; one written by Nahum Tate, and set to music by Henry Purcell, appeared in 1687.

Portraits of Playford are published with several editions of 'A Brief Introduction:' (l) at the age of thirty-eight, by R. Gaywood, 12mo, 1660; (2) aged 40, the same plate, retouched, 12mo, 1663 ('Introduction' of 1664 and 1666); (3) aged 47, by Van Hoe, 1669; (4) the same, retouched, 1669 ('Introduction ' of 1670 and 1672); (5) aged 57, by Loggan, 1680 ('Introduction' of 1687); (6) Hawkins prints a poor engraving by Grignion in his 'History,' p. 733 (Bromley, Cat. Engraved Portraits).

Playford's original compositions were very few and slight. His vocal pieces, in 'Catch ... or the Musical Companion,' 1667, are: 'Carolus, Catherina;' 'Fra queste piante;' 'Though the Tyrant;' 'Come let us sit,' a 4; 'Diogenes was Merry;' 'Come, Damon;' 'Cease, Damon;' 'Cupid is mounted;' 'Hue ad Eegem Pastorum,' a 3. 'When Fair Cloris' is in the ' Musical Companion,' 1673; 'Methinks the Poor Town' in 'Choice Songs,' 1673. 'Laudate Dominum,' 'Out of the Deep,' 'O be Joyful,' 'I am well pleased,' 'Lord, Thou hast brought up my Soul,' appeared in 'Cantica Sacra,' 1674, and several tunes by Playford in 'The Whole Book of Psalms.' 'Comely Swain,' a 3, was printed in 'The Harmonicon,' vi. 120.

The distinct works of composers which Playford published may be found under the composers' names. The chief volumes of collective music for which he was responsible are: 1. 'The English Dancing Master,' entered at Stationers' Hall, 1650; 'The Dancing Master,' second edition, 1652; another, probably the third edition, was advertised in 1657, apparently reprinted 1665, with the tunes which afterwards formed the first edition of 'Apollo's Banquet;' editions followed in 1670, 1675, 1679, and the seventh in 1686; by Playford's son, Henry, in 1690, 1695, second part, 1696, 1698, 1701; twelfth edition in 1703, after which it passed into other hands, reaching the seventeenth edition in 1728. 2. 'The Musical Banquet,' in four tracts: i. 'Rules for Song and Viol' (afterwards developed into 'A Brief Introduction,' &c.); ii. 'Thirty Lessons...' (afterwards 'Musick's Recreation on the Lyra-Violl'); iii. 'Twenty-seven Lessons of Two Parts' (afterwards ' Court Ayres '); iv. 'Twenty Rounds or Catches' (afterwards 'Catch that catch can'), about 1650. 3. 'A Book of New Lessons for the Cithern and Gittern,' about 1652 and 1659, reprinted 1675, 'Musick's Delight on the Cithern,' 1666. 4. 'Catch that catch can, or a Choice Collec-tion of Catches, Rounds, and Canons for Three or Four Voyces, collected and published by John Hilton,' 1652; second edition, corrected and enlarged by John Playford, 1658, 1663; 'Catch..., &c., or the Musical Companion, to which is added a Second Book contayning Dialogues, Glees, Ayres, and Ballads, for Two, Three, and Four Voyces,' 1667; 'The Musical Companion, in Two Books: I. Catches...; II. Dialogues..,' 1673 (the second book dated 1672); 'Catch that catch can, or the second part of the Musical Companion,' contains seventy new catches and songs, 1685;' The Second Book of the Pleasant Musical Companion,' 2nd ed. 1686, a reprint, 1687. Henry Playford published a fifth edition,' Pleasant Musical Companion,' 1707; other publishers issued later editions, including the tenth, 1726. 5. 'Musick's Recreation on the Lyra- Viol,' in lute tablature, 1652, 1656; '... on the Viol, Lyraway,' 1661, 1669, 1682; there was announced in 1674 'Musick's Recreation on the Bass- Viol, Lyra-way.' 6. 'Select Musical Ayres and Dialogues for One and Two Voyces to sing to the Theorbo-Lute or Bass- Violl...' in two books, 1652; in three books, 1653; other editions,' Select Ayres,' 1659, second book and third book, consisting chiefly of compositions by Henry Lawes, and reprinted as the second and third books of 'The Treasury of Musick,' 1669. 7. 'Court Ayres or Pavins, Almains, Corants, and Sarabands of two parts, Treble and Bass, for Viols and for Violins, which may be performed in Consort to the Theorbo-Lute or Virginalls,' obi. 8vo, 1655; 'Courtly Masquing Ayres...' two books in 4to, 1664. 8. ' A Breif Introduction to the Skill of Music for Song and Viol,' in two books, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1658; third edition, enlarged, with portrait, 'A Brief Introduction... to which is added a third book, entituled The Art of Setting or Composing Musick in Parts, by Dr. Thomas Campion, with Annotations thereon by Mr. Christopher Simpson,' 1660, 1662, 1664, 1666, 'An Introduction,' 1672 ;' With the Order of Singing Divine Service,' 1674, 1679; 10th ed. 1683; by Henry Playford, llth ed. 1687, 1694; ' With the Art of Descant,' by H. Purccell, 1697; 14th ed. 1700; 15th ed. 1703, continued by other publishers to 19th ed. 1730. 9. 'Cantica Sacra,' Dering's Latin anthems, first set, 1662 ; second set, Latin and English, by various composers, 1673, 1674. 10. 'Musick's Hand-maide, presenting New and Pleasant Lessons for the Virginalls or Harpcycon' (afterwards Harpsychord or Spinet), 1663, 1673, 1678 ; by Henry Playford, second book, 1689; the whole reprinted, engraven on copper-plates, 1690, 1695. 11. 'Apollo's Banquet for the Treble Violin,' 1670, 1673; with tunes of French dances, 1676; with rules, 1678; in two parts, 1685; by Henry Playford, 6th ed. 1690; 7th, 1695; 8th, with 'New Ayres and Instructions,' 1701. 12. 'The Pleasant Companion Lessons on the Flagilet' (Greeting), 1671, 1676, 1684. 13. 'Psalms and Hymns in Solemn Musick of Four Parts, on the Common Tunes to the Psalms in Metre, used Parish Churches; also Six Hymns for One Voice to the Organ,' 1671. 14. 'Choice Songs and Ayres...,' 1673, 1675, 1676; second book, 1679; third book, 1681; collected in 3 vols. as 'Choice Banquet of Musick,' 1682; fourth book, 1683; fifth book, 1684. 15. 'The whole Book of Psalms with the usual Hymns and Spiritual Son... composed in Three Parts,' 1677; Henry Playford, 2nd ed. 1695; 8th, 1702 continued by other publishers, 20th ed. 1757. 16. 'The Delightful Companion [some times 'Musick's Delight'], Lessons for the Recorder or Flute,' 1682. 17. 'The Division Violin,' 1685; 3rd ed. 1688; 4th, 1699.

After Playford's death, his only surviving son, Henry Playford (1657–1706?), born on 5 May 1657, and christened at the Temple Church, when Henry Lawes and an elder Henry Playford, stood godfathers, carried or the business at the shop near the Temple Church. In partnership with Robert Carr, Henry published three books of 'The Theatre of Musick;' the fourth book and his other undertakings appeared independently of Carr. In 1694 he sold to Heptinstall his copyright in 'The Dancing Master.' From 1696 to 1703 Playford traded in the Temple Change 'over against St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet Street.' He employed as printers, John Playford the younger, 1685; Charles Peregrine, 1687; E. Jones, 1687, 1696; J. Heptinstall, 1696; William Pearson, 1698. About 1701 he instituted weekly clubs for the practice of music, which flourished in Oxford as we as in London.

Playford, in his effort to withstand the competition of purveyors of cheap music established in 1699 a concert of music to held three evenings in the week at a coffee house. Here his music was to be sold, and might be heard at the request of any propective purchaser. He complained of the dearness of good paper, and of the scandalous abuse of selling single songs at a penny apiece, a practice 'which hindered good collections.' In 1703 Playford invited subscriptions to the 'Monthly Collections of Music' to be sent to his house in Arundel Street Strand, 'over against the Blue Ball.' From 1703 to 1707 he seems to have engaged desultorily in selling prints, paintings, 'and other adornments.' In 1706 his warehouse was a room 'up one pair of stairs next the Queen's Head Tavern over against the Middle Temple Gate.' His name appears on the fifth edition of 'The Pleasant Musical Companion,' dated 1707, but as a rule these publications were antedated; and his name does not occur again in advertisements or on title-pages. He died between 1706 and 1721, when his will was proved. He left a legacy to Henry Purcell, and the bulk of his property to his wife Ann, daughter of Thomas Baker of Oxford, whom he married in December 1688.

His chief collective publications were:

  1. 'The Theatre of Musick,' three books, 1685; fourth book, 1687.
  2. 'Harmonia Sacra,' first book, 1688, 1703; second book, 1693; supplement, 1700.
  3. 'The Banquet of Musick,' a collection of songs sung at court and at publick theatres; first and second books, 1688; third and fourth books, 1689; sixth book, 1694.
  4. 'The Sprightly Companion, a Collection of best Foreign Marches,' 1695.
  5. 'Directions to learn the French Hautboy, with outlandish Marches and other Tunes,' 1695.
  6. 'Deliciee Musicae, a Collection of Songs,' four books in one volume, 1696; first and second parts of vol. ii. 1697.
  7. 'The New Treasury of Musick, a Collection of Song-books published for Twenty Years past,' 1 vol. in folio, with a title-page, about 1696.
  8. 'The Alamode Musician, a Collection of Songs.'
  9. 'Orpheus Britannicus,' 1698 [see Purcell, Henry]
  10. 'Wit and Mirth, or Pills to purge Melancholy … Ballads and Songs,' 1699; second part, 1700; third book, in the press, 1702; continued by other publishers, 1712.
  11. 'The Psalmody: Directions to play the Psalm Tunes by Letters instead of Notes, with an Instrument, the Invention of John Playford,' 1699.
  12. 'Mercurius Musicus, a Monthly Collection of New Teaching Songs, composed for the Theatres and other Occasions, January 1698-9, to December 1699,' 1700, 1701; announced to be printed in future in single songs, with the former title.
  13. 'Original Scotch Tunes,' 1700; 2nd ed. 1701.
  14. 'Amphion Anglicus,' 1702 [see Blow, John].
  15. 'The Divine Companion, a Collection of Easie Hymns for One, Two, and Three Voices,' 1701; editions by other publishers, 4th, 1722.
  16. Announced, 'The Lady's Banquet … Lessons for Harpsichord or Spinet,' 1702; to be continued yearly.

The music printer, John Playford the younger (1656–1686), son of Matthew Playford, rector of Stanmore Magna, Middlesex, by his wife Eleanor Playford, and nephew of John Playford the elder, entered in 1679 into partnership with Ann, the widow of William Godbid, in the printing-house at Little Britain, 'the ancient and only printing-house in England for variety of musick and workmen that understand it.' It was also the chief printing-house for setting up mathematical works.

Playford's firm printed the sixth edition of 'The Dancing Master' in 1679, and other musical publications. In 1684 Mrs. Godbid's name disappeared, and Playford continued the business alone. His last work for his uncle was the seventh edition of 'The Dancing Master,' dated 1686; he printed only one of Henry's publications, 'The Theatre of Musick,' 1685. He died in that year, and was buried in Great Stanmore church, where a stone on the floor of the nave bears his name (Lysons, Environs, iii. 398). He describes himself in his will (signed 20 April, proved 29 April 1685), as a citizen and stationer of London. Playford left his property to his mother Eleanor, then married to Randolph Nichol, and to his two sisters, Anne, the wife of William Killigrew, and Eleanor, who afterwards married William Walker. The printing-house was advertised for sale in the 'London Gazette' of 6 May 1686. It included a dwelling-house, in which Eleanor, her brother's executrix was then living.

[Manuscript notes from North Walsham Manor rolls, kindly supplied by Mr. Walter Rye; London Gazette and other papers, 1648-1709 passim; Hawkins's History of Music, pp. 687-94, 733; Burney's History of Music, iii. 59, 417, 464; Pepys's Diary, ii. 68, iv. 18; registers of Stanmore Magna, of the Temple Church, of St. Mary's, Islington, of St. Clement Danes, of St. Dunstan's, and of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; ChappeH's Popular Music, vol. i.p. xvi; Lysons's Environs, iii. 398; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, pp. 353, 364; Marriage Licenses, Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, p. 192; Marriage Allegations, registers of the Vicar-general of the Archbishop of Canterbury; registers of St. James's, Clerkenwell (Harleian Soc.); Hon. Roger North's Memoires of Musick, p. 107; Horsfield's History of Lewes, ii. 218; Foster's Alumni Oxon. early ser. iii. 1171; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vii. 449, 494 (for the Playford family); Grove's Dictionary of Music, iii. 2, iv. 749; Registers of Wills, P. C. C., Penn, 93, Box, 196, Cann, 48, Archdeaconry of Middlesex, December 1721; Playford's publications. Messrs Barclay Squire and Julian Marshall have rendered assistance in the preparation of this article.]

L. M. M.