Sunday, March 4, 2012

Occasional Folk Songs
The Dancing Master

The dancing master was something of a 17th century publishing sensation. First published in 1651 as "The English Dancing Master" it eventually ran to 18 editions over the next 80 years with the eighteenth edition being published about 1728. The title was changed to "The Dancing Master" with the second edition in 1652. The Dancing Master was a book of country dances with instructions for dancing the dances together with a tune for each dance. Although the dances possibly originated in the dances of the country folk, these were dances for the upper and middle classes and possibly originated as light relief to the complex dances danced at the court.

"The Dancing Master" is important as a source of dances as danced by the upper and middle classes during the period of its publication - and possibly for some time after. Playford dances have often been used in costume dramas in film and on TV, including adaptations of Jane Austen Novels which were written almost 100 years after the last publication of The Dancing Master.

It is also important as a source of popular instrumental tunes from the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are over 500 tunes in The Dancing Master and many of the tunes in the first edition were current during the last years of Elizabeth I.

Playford's work was rediscovered by Cecil Sharp in the late nineteenth century and he set about trying to recreate some of the dances. Many have disagreed with his interpretations but he was working in the dark with an unfamiliar form of notation. In addition, The Dancing Master, especially the early editions, was notorious for the number of errors it contains. Successive editions would correct errors only to introduce new ones. Others have since worked on recreating the dances.

My own interest is in the tunes and there are some wonderful tunes. I include two  here that I have arranged, Childgrove from the 11th Edition of 1701 and Lady Catherine Ogle which first appeared in a supplement to the 7th Edition in 1687 as "Lady Catherine Ogle, a new dance". Lady Catherine Ogle is normally considered a traditional Scots tune, but it has been suggested that it was actually composed by Irish Harper Rory dall O'Cahan who spent much of his adult life in Scotland.

I play Childgrove on a Mollenhauer dream alto recorder and Lady Catherine Ogle on a Mollenhauer dream tenor recorder.