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Music at Court

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"Greet Elyza with a Rhyme"

Music at Court

Queen Elizabeth, indeed every monarch, had a special role in the national musical culture.  The court maintained the Chapel Royal, a group of musicians and clergymen serving the English monarch, as well as a large number of instrumentalists.


Elizabeth was known as an accomplished amateur musician; she was even portrayed in one portrait holding a lute, the most popular aristocratic instrument of the day.  Her influence on music can be seen through her patronage of Tallis, Byrd, Ferrabosco, and Morley.


During the reign of James I, court masques came into vogue. These were dramatic pageants, incorporating drama, music, dance, ornate costumes, elaborate scenery, and complex allegorical and political meaning. Produced by and for the monarch and the court, masques were designed to praise rulers, likening them and their courtiers to mythical gods and heroes. By spending lavishly on productions, monarchs like James I, and other sponsors showcased their affluence. Because of the ephemeral nature of masques, only bits and pieces survive from what must have been a vast corpus of vocal and instrumental music produced for them.


This unpublished manuscript above shows the organization of the musical establishment typical since the time of Henry VIII. The categories of musicians include those involved with ceremonies of state (“trumpeters”) as well as instrumental ensembles and other musicians: “Luters,” “Harpers,” “Singers,” "Rebecke” (fiddle family), “Sagbutts” (trombone family), “Vialls,” “Bagpiper,” “players of Enterludes,” “Maker of instrumentes.”  The only name listed, “Browne,” is that of Benedict Browne, “Serjeant Trumpetter.”




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A generall collection of all of the offices in England. Manuscript, 1609

Michielle Harton. Lute. Padua, 1598.

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