Music for church & pleasure
It was around this time that music became an integral part of the curriculum of any well-to-do well-educated person, something that with the cuts in education spending at the moment, is perhaps going backwards. Although this was the beginnings of music for pleasure, there's still no such thing as a formal concert. Music was still played either on some special occasion, or as in this period, in the private houses of the nobility and gentry. Unless the performances was in some very large stately home, the ensemble would be some form of classical duo, trio or string quartet, just from the point of view of room available. (This is one of the great virtues of the string quartet for a wedding, they can fit the instruments in to even the smallest church yet play loudly enough for ceremony in the Cathedral, can fit into the dining room of a small hotel, or play in the prestigious wedding venue. It was this versatility that made this kind of music so popular in the 15th century.
It wasn't just viols that were used for this kind of music, but lute, recorders and flutes. Much of the music could be played on any combination of instruments, and in past years I've played a lot of flute and violin duets from around this period, for weddings, though this kind of music seems to have somewhat gone out of fashion and it's very much more the string quartet playing pop covers that get the business these days. Perhaps it's the result in the decline of musical education, and no one would have thought that classic FM would have saved the day, it plays such a narrow range of classical music as it has little effect, and BBC radio 3 tends to be so extreme in the other direction that many people listening to it is just mystery.
The well he would keep a band of musicians permanently employed as members of the household, along with corks and butlers, and music was regularly played during and after meals. If you're a National trust member you will be familiar with grand houses which with huge banqueting halls, some with musicians galleries at one end, but always plenty of space to set up anything from string quartet to a woodwind ensemble. From time to time the meal would be interrupted with a dance.
It's obvious that the development of music to listen to for pleasure, as opposed to music for ceremony, required the development of a very different attitude on the part of the musicians and the listener. Before this point music was designed for a definite occasion, a ceremony or ritual. Now we have the development of music to be listened to and for the pleasure of listening. Entertainment music started to develop fast. There were masques, operas, part songs, music for Little orchestras and string quartets. The time when a consort of instruments was to turn into a concert was not very far away.
The first concerts that were open to the public were given by Mr John Bannister between 1672 and 1678 in London. The concerts were held at John Bannister's house in Whitefriars, Fleet Street, daily at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The price of a ticket was one shilling. Shortly afterwards a Mr Thomas Britton gave public subscription concerts at his house in Clerkenwell. The cost of the subscription was 10 shillings a year. From this, there developed a number of concert giving societies, including a well-known society by the name of Solomon the commissioned Joseph Haydn to write symphonies for them. This was the very end of the 18th century. The Royal Philharmonic Society was founded in 1813 and August Manns put on a concert series at The Crystal Palace, and promenade concerts were put on at Covent Garden.
Although music was now no longer just being played for ritual occasions, the ritual became the music, with philosophical interpretations of music being expounded by music critics and musicologists. This tendency goes on to the present day. How many programs for Symphony Orchestra concerts or string quartet concerts and the average person make head or tail of? I'm a musician and I normally get bored by the end of the first sentence of the description of some string quartet or symphony. I think the only place that I've come across exciting descriptions of music that mean anything to me, is in America. I remember going to concerts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where you could turn up half an hour earlier and listen to a lecture on the music. In typical American manner, it was down-to-earth and meaningful. Other than the Earnest Reed concerts for children, which were put on in the 1970s and 1980s, I haven't come across anything like this in the UK.
People couldn't listen to a Symphony without having to ask "what was it about?" Some pundits profess to hearing in the opening notes of some great work "Fate Knocking on the Door". Other People Describe Visions of Moonlight When Listening to a Sonata. An entirely new business of analysis and dissection of music, and of the unfortunate composed to, came into being – the music critic, which later developed into the film critic et cetera.
The music critic profess to take into account every tiny detail of the composer's life and related to this or that musical work. But I'm digressing. Let's go back to the 15th and 16th centuries, and the music that was particularly strong in England and the Netherlands, but gradually drifted towards Italy and then on to Germany. The English schools music came into being around about 1520 and was strong until about 1760. In earlier times, music was evocative of deep emotions whether of worship (reference the beginnings of jazz in America). People were moved to excitement and fervour, and expressed it in dance and song (the early beginnings of the ceilidh and barn dance). To an extent, the idea of going to a concert to listen to music was the death of this emotion and emotional expression. They sit and listen to music. They don't dance, shout, tack their toes. They just sit there, mostly looking miserable. This is one of the reasons I really like playing with my ceilidh band, because everybody gets involved and enjoys themselves. I've also enjoyed playing at cabaret style venues with my string quartet, where people have tables and drinks, snacks, and are allowed to move around go for a walk, or jig around in the aisle bit, even to Haydn string Quartet. It's much more fun. Another series of concerts I've really enjoyed the BBC promenade concerts in London.
So we can say that this aspect of music, that is, its enjoyment, is in a most unsatisfactory state. Paradoxically, music itself is undoubtedly at a higher level of perfection in it has ever been. This isn't saying that a work by contemporary composer is better (in whatever sense one is meaning that,) to the music written at any other period. It is meaningless to say that a string quartet by, for example Webern is either better or worse than string quartet by Beethoven. Each may be perfect music in its own way. Rather what I am meaning is that music is being written of an importance and significance equal to the greatest periods of the past. Furthermore, it is more easily accessible because of CDs, music downloads, BBC radio 3, classic FM et cetera.
As I've said above, music began and something to enhance celebrations and rituals, often connected with magic or religious activities. Only later did it develop into a secular entertainment. European tradition of music in religious and quasireligious rights probably came from the ancient Greek Dionysian festivals, which later got taken over by the Christian church. Possibly the Greek Dionysian festivals themselves came from the Egyptian Osiris Legends and beliefs, with the immaculate birth, preordained death and resurrection all later taken up by the Christian church.
In all of this they were dramatised songs such as the mysterious Goat Song of Greek drama, which in post-Christian times developed into the Mithraic rituals of 25 December and became combined with the Teutonic legend of the egg of Eastertide. There were the Winchester tropes in the 9th century A.D., the "Mysteries" in France in the 11th century, the English Miracle Plays and Moralities in the 12th century, which were really borrowed from France. All of these were religious or quasireligious rights where music, dancing and singing formed an important part.
Of course, music has developed considerably since those times and won it bits most important functions now is its use for dance and for incidental music. From Midsummer music's point of view, the dances covered by our ceilidh bands and barn dance bands and also sometimes by our jazz bands (though dancing to jazz is less common now than it was in the 1940s to 1950s). Our string quartets play what could be called incidental music, for example for wedding breakfasts, corporate events, wedding anniversary banquets and so on, and even for wedding ceremonies themselves, though I suppose you could hardly call it incidental as it's a major part of the structure of a church wedding ceremony were civil partnership. But usual connotation of the term "incidental" is music which, from time to time, accompanies the action of the play, the film, a television programme or a TV advert, where musical locations are portrayed on the stage with the screen as distinct from the music of Opera's, where the music is an integral part of the entertainment.