12 Annotations

First Reading

Pauline  •  Link

(d.1681). Composer, musical theorist, and viol player. No copy of his 'Plaine Rules and Directions for Composing Musick in Parts', alluded to by Wood, is know to survive. A proposed theoretical treatise, "Syntagma Musicum", never materialized.

Alan Bedford  •  Link

The following was posted by Dan on 14 Jan 2005:

“In the 1660s John Birchensha claimed to have developed a system of ‘easy, certain, and perfect Rules’ by means of which ‘not only those, who skilfully can sing or play on some Instrument, may learn to compose but also those, who can neither sing nor play’. His pupils included Silas Taylor, Thomas Salmon, and (memorably) Samuel Pepys. But his treatise Syntagma musicae – in which he promised to include ‘directions how to compose artificially and skilfully in a few weeks’ – was never published, despite encouragement from the Royal Society.”
Link is an abstract of a paper presented at Manchester last July.

language hat  •  Link


This unusual name is presumably the same (in origin) as the more common Birkenshaw; I assume it has southern -ch- instead of northern -k- (cf church/kirk). I found a Russian page of composers' births and deaths that lists the alternate spellings Birchensha, Berchenshaw, Berkenshaw, Birkenshaw, but I don't know if they were all used for John B. or if they're just alternate versions of the family name in general:

dirk  •  Link

Birchensha - etymology

from Old English birce = birch (tree)

from Old English sceaga (Celtic origin?) = thicket

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Birchensha published in the diary period:
Alsted, Johann Heinrich, 1588-1638.
Templum musicum: or The musical synopsis, of the learned and famous Johannes - Henricus - Alstedius, being a compendium of the rudiments both of the mathematical and practical part of musick: of which subject not any book is extant in our English tongue. Faithfully translated out of Latin by John Birchensha. philomath. Imprimatur, Feb. 5. 1663. Roger L’Estrange.
[Varient Title: Musical synopsis, of the learned and famous Johannes - Henricus - Alstedius]
London : printed by Will. Godbid for Peter Dring at the Sun in the Poultrey next dore to the Rose-Tavern, 1664.
[16], 93 [i.e. 94], [2] p. : ill. (metal cut), music ; 8⁰.Frontispiece engraved and signed: Iohn Chantry sculp.; p. 94 misnumbered 93. The last leaf is blank.
Wing (2nd ed.), A2926. A translation of part 6 of: Elementale mathematicum.

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Birchensha surviving manuscript treatises: a description of a forthcoming (2009) publication:
Field, Christopher; Wardhaugh, Benjamin 'John Birchensha: Writings on Music,' Ashgate 2009

New link for Benjamin Wardhaugh's article discussing Birchensha's appearance before the Royal Society in August 1664:
Mr. Birchensha's Ear (Full text - Trinity 2005 issue of The Owl.)

Jennifer Burchinshaw  •  Link

The Burchinshaw/Birchensha family moved from Lancashire/Cheshire to North Wales after the victory by Edward I at the end of the 13th century to secure the township of Denbigh for the Crown. Like the Middleton, Salisbury and Clough families, they assimilated the Welsh culture but established a second base in London when the Tudors came to the throne.
The earliest record I can find of our family surname is 'de Birchyneshagh' in 1235. The spelling with a 'k' instead of 'ch' originates from the Wakefield area of Yorkshire.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John Berchinshaw, an Irishman, translated the "Elementale Musicum," 8vo, 1664, and issued, in 1672, a prospectus of a complete system of music, but it is doubtful if the book ever appeared. In the Pepsyian Library is a thin folio volume entitled, "Mr. Berchinshaw's Two Parts to be sung (severally) with ye ordinary Church Tunes of the Singing Psalms." Evelyn mentions him in his Diary (August 3rd, 1664) in high terms, and describes him as "that rare artist who invented a mathematical way of composure very extraordinary, true as to the exact rules of art, but without much harmonie." He lived at Southwark, see post, February 24th, 1661-62. A John Birchenshaw was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, May 14th, 1681, but it is not certain that this was the teacher of music.
---Wheatley, 1899.

Bill  •  Link

BIRCHENSHA, JOHN (fl.1664-1672), musician; lived in family of Earl of Kildare, and afterwards taught the viol in London; prepared notes for a work on the mathematical basis of music.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Bill  •  Link

John Birchensha (c.1605-1681) is chiefly remembered for the impression that his theories about music made on the mathematicians, natural philosophers and virtuosi of the Royal Society in the 1660s and 1670s, and for inventing a system that he claimed would enable even those without practical experience of music to learn to compose in a short time by means of 'a few easy, certain, and perfect Rules'. His great aim was to publish a treatise on music in its philosophical, mathematical and practical aspects entitled Syntagma musicæ. Unfortunately, the book never appeared, and no final manuscript of it survives. Recent research, however, has brought to light a number of manuscripts which allow us at last to form a more complete view of Birchensha's ideas and to gain at least a flavour of the lost Syntagma musicæ.
---(Blurb for the book) John Birchensha: Writings on Music. C. Field, Ashgate, 2010.

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





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