This text was copied from Wikipedia on 15 July 2024 at 5:10AM.

John Playford portrait by David Loggan

John Playford (1623–1686) was a London bookseller, publisher, minor composer and member of the Stationers' Company. He published books on music theory, instruction books for several instruments and psalters with tunes for singing in churches. He is perhaps best known today for his publication of The English Dancing Master in 1651.


Playford was born in Norwich, the younger son of John Playford. He served an apprenticeship in London with publisher John Benson from 1639/40 to 1647, after which he remained in the capital, opening a shop in the porch of Temple Church. Playford was clerk to the 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 (1649–60), and for some years of Charles II's reign, Playford almost monopolised the business of music publishing in England. His shop was the meeting-place of musical enthusiasts; Samuel Pepys was a frequent customer.[1]

Bookseller, publisher, and member of the Stationers' Company, Playford published books on music theory, instruction books for several instruments, and psalters with tunes for singing in churches. He is perhaps best known today for his publication of The English Dancing Master in 1651, during the period of the Puritan-dominated Commonwealth (later editions were known as 'The Dancing Master'). This work contains both the music and instructions for English country dances. This came about after Playford, working as an English Civil War correspondent, was captured by Cromwell's men and told that, if he valued his freedom (as a sympathiser with the King), he might consider a change of career. Although many of the tunes in the book are attributed to him today, he probably did not write any of them. Most were popular melodies that had existed for years.

During the Restoration period, 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.[1]

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 lute tablature to ordinary violin players; and he resisted, in an earnest letter of remonstrance (1673), Thomas 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.[1]

By 1665 Playford and his wife moved from the Temple to a large house opposite Islington Church, where Mrs. Playford kept a boarding-school until her death in October 1679. 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 retired, leaving the main running of the business to his son Henry Playford (see below). 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.[1]

He apparently died in Arundel Street about November 1686. His will was written on 5 November 1686, neither signed nor witnessed, and only proved in August 1694, the handwriting being identified by witnesses. He was probably buried in the Temple Church as he desired, although the registers do not record his name. Henry Purcell and John Blow attended the funeral. Several elegies upon his death were published; one written by Nahum Tate, and set to music by Purcell, appeared in 1687.[1]

Playford's original compositions were few and slight, and included some vocal and instrumental pieces in the following collections: Catch ... or the Musical Companion, 1667; Choice Songs, 1673; Cantica Sacra, 1674; The Whole Book of Psalms and The Harmonicon.[1]


Henry Playford

After Playford's death, his only surviving son, Henry Playford (5 May 1657 - 1706?), carried on 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 publications appeared independently of Carr. In 1694, he sold his copyright in 'The Dancing Master' to printer, John Heptinstall. From 1696 to 1703, Playford traded in the "Temple Exchange" '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; John Heptinstall, 1696; and William Pearson, 1698. Around 1701 he instituted weekly clubs for the practice of music, which flourished in Oxford as well as in London.[1]

Playford, in order to meet competition from purveyors of cheap music, established, in 1699, a music concert to be 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 prospective purchaser. He complained of the expense of good-quality paper, and of the scandalous abuse of selling single songs at a penny a piece, 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, The Strand, 'over against the Blue Ball.' From 1703 to 1707 he also seems to have engaged 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 (née Baker - daughter of Thomas Baker of Oxford), whom he had married in December 1688.[1]

John Playford the Younger

The music printer and stationer John Playford the younger (1656–1686), 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.[1]

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, 'T'he Theatre of Musick, 1685. He died in that year, and was buried in Great Stanmore church. Playford left his property to his mother Eleanor, and to his two sisters, Anne (wife of William Killigrew), and Eleanor (who afterwards married William Walker). The printing-house (and dwelling house) was advertised for sale in the London Gazette of 6 May 1686.[1]

Selected publications

  • The English Dancing Master (1651)
  • A Musicall Banquet (1651)
  • Catch that Catch Can (1652)
  • A Booke of New Lessons for the Cithern & Gittern (1652, revised 1666 as Musick's Delight on the Cithren)
  • Musick's Recreation on the Lyra Viol (1652)
  • A Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick (1654)
  • Court Ayres (1655)
  • Choice Musick to the Psalmes of David (1656)
  • The Whole Book of Psalms (1661)
  • The Musical Companion (1667) - songs and catches
  • Apollo's Banquet for the Treble Violin (1669)
  • Psalms and Hymns (1671) - psalm tunes in four parts
  • Musick's Handmaid (1678) - songs for the harpsichord
  • The Division Violin (1685) - a set of 26 tunes which start simply and build complex variations ("divisions") on the original melody. While many of the pieces were accessible to amateurs, several featured advanced techniques (for the time) like scordatura, fingered double stops, and large interval leaps across the strings.

See also


  • Nelson, Russell C., John Playford and the English Amateur Musician (1966), dissertation, University of Iowa.
  • Pullen, Ginger Lee, Five Collections of Lyra Viol Music Published by John Playford (1979), dissertation, University of British Columbia.
  • Randel, Don Michael, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (1996), Belknap Press. ISBN 0-674-37299-9.
  • Temperley, Nicholas (1972). "John Playford and the Metrical Psalms". Journal of the American Musicological Society. 25 (3): 331–78. doi:10.1525/jams.1972.25.3.03a00030.
  • Temperley, Nicholas (1973). "John Playford and the Stationers' Company". Music and Letters. 54 (2): 203–12. doi:10.1093/ml/liv.2.203.
  • Thompson, Robert (1995). "Manuscript music in Purcell's London". Early Music. XXIII (4): 605–620. doi:10.1093/earlyj/XXIII.4.605.

Sheet Music

  • Nikolaus Newerkla. Playford Dances & Carolan Tunes, selected dance tunes arranged for recorders and basso continuo (Moeck, Celle, Germany, 2007).
  • Nikolaus Newerkla. The English Dancing Master, selected tunes arranged for recorders and harpsichord (Bärenreiter, Kassel, Germany, 2012).


  • John Playford’s Popular Tunes. The Broadside Band. AmonRa, 1986.
  • English Country Dances. From Playford’s Dancing Master 1651–1703. The Broadside Band. Saydisc, 1991.
  • Country Capers. Music from Playford’s The English Dancing Master. The New York Renaissance Band. Arabesque, 1999.
  • Nobodys Jig. Les Witches, Odile Edouard (Violine). Alpha, 2002/2008.
  • English Country Dances. The Harp Consort, Andrew Lawrence-King (Leitung). HMF, 2002.
  • Mr. Playford’s English Dancing Master. Lautten Compagney, conducted by Wolfgang Katschner. Berlin, 2005.
  • Oranges & Lemons. The Playfords. Coviello, 2006.
  • In the Streets of London: A 17th Century Musical Pub Tour, PRISMA Ensemble, Fuga Libera FUG814 (2023)[2]
  • all the CDs of Quadriga Consort contain pieces from the English Dancing Master


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Playford, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. '^ Reviewed in MusicWeb International

External links

13 Annotations

First Reading

Roger Miller  •  Link

John Playford (1623-1686) was not only London's foremost music publisher during the 17th century but also a prominent royalist.

This is a brief biography:…

This is a link to an on-line exhibition at the British Library marking the 350th anniversary in 2001 of the publication of Playford's The English Dancing Master - the first printed collection of English country dances :…

On his death the leading musician of his time, Henry Purcell, composed an elegy for him to a text by Nahum Tate:…

Skip Oberon  •  Link

I was browsing the stacks at the Hogarth University music library the other day and I found a very interesting book of songs by Schubert's brother Dietrich. I knew that he was a florist, but had no idea that he was also a composer! I walked to the circulation desk to take the book out when I noticed a puddle on the floor, and a leak in the ceiling. Could it have been a coincidence? The salt marshes are filled with a variety of creatures, but none is as variegated as that one over there!

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
Playford, John, the elder (1623-?86). The most productive music publisher of his day in England. His shop was in the Inner Temple. His "English Dancing Master" (1650) and his collections of songs and catches stayed in print for many years. His son Henry inherited his business.

in Aqua Scripto  •  Link

John Playford and The English Dancing Master - Introduction…

complete text on line in cludes the square dance

The Fryar and the Nun Longways for as many as will * * * * * * * ) ) ) ) ) ) )
_______________________________________________________________________________ Leade up men a D. turne round, We. goe up a D. and turn single: Wo. goe downe a D. and turne single, men down and turne S. _.:_ ________________________________________ the two uppermost men fall back and turne S. We. as much, changing over with your owne , men change, We. change at the same time, then each change places with his owne _._ Doe thus to all, the rest following _:_ ________________________________________ First and 2. man change places by both hands, We. as much, men ad We. meet side wayes, turn all the S. hand and goe halfe round, turne S. hands a crosse and goe half round, turne S. _:_
Up Tailes all Round for as many as will…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John Playford, who kept a music shop near the Temple-gate in London, was author of "An Introduction to the Skill of Music," published in 1655, and often re-printed. Mr. Wood informs us, that he was assisted in this work by Charles Pidgeon, of Gray's Inn, and that he was indebted for a considerable part of it to Thomas Morley's "Introduction to Music," printed in folio, 1597. The latter editions of it have the manner and order of performing divine service in cathedral and collegiate churches, subjoined to them. He was editor of "The Book of Psalms and Hymns in Metre, with all their usual and proper tunes," &c. This was corrected by Henry Purcell, and was sometimes bound with the "Book of Common Prayer." He also published "Airs and Songs for the Theorbo Lute, or Bass Viol."
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

PLAYFORD (JOHN), bookseller in London; Inner Temple near the church door, 1623-86? Younger son of John Playford, of Norwich. Dealt chiefly in music books. Temporarily in partnership with John Benson and Zachariah Watkins, 1664-5. His printers were Thomas Harper, 1648-52; William Godbid, 1658-78; Ann Godbid and her partner John Playford the younger, 1679-83; John Playford alone, 1684-5. He was the inventor of the "new ty'd notes." In 1672 he began engraving on copper plates. The D.N.B. records no less than seventeen collections of music books published by John Playford, who was succeeded by his son Henry.
---A Dictionary of the Booksellers and Printers ... H.R. Plomer, 1907.

Bill  •  Link

PLAYFORD, JOHN, the elder (1623-1686?), musician and publisher; became known as a musical publisher in London, с.1648, and from 1652 until his retirement kept a shop in the Inner Temple, near the church door; almost monopolised the business of music publishing in England under the Commonwealth, and for some years of Charles II's reign; famous for his collected volumes of songs and catches. In typographical technique his most original improvement was the invention, in 1658, of 'the new-ty'd note.' His original compositions were few and slight.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Gresham College has a fine archive of their past lectures.
One I found concerns "Early Science: Music from the Samuel Pepys Collection".

At the start the point is made that 17th century people considered music as a "science", and its close relationship to mathematics is well documented.


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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.





  • May