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The Divine Companion
Henry Playford’s 1722 Compilation of One, Two, and Three Part Music.

Edited for modern choirs by Francis Roads.

Cover Design

Review by Ken Baddley

Henry Playford knew publishing; it had been the family business for over half a century, since his father John had been described as ‘The Musick-seller at the Temple Gate’, so the publishing of four editions of ‘The Divine Companion’ between 1701 and 1722 is most unlikely to have been something which Henry undertook on a speculative basis; as a good businessman—and with no more ‘social media infrastructure’ than crude handbills—he was supplying a new demand for music from amateur singers in church galleries throughout England.

Relatively recent research has shown that there was—well before the first (1701) edition of the collection which Francis Roads has now published— support from local clergy for psalmody, and also for the building of galleries specifically to house the singers. David Spaeth offers evidence of applications from parish churches for the granting of facilities to build galleries for local groups of singers in parish churches from as early as 1674. This evidence (of both the building of the galleries and of the music) goes a long way towards supporting the opinion, set out by the editor in his foreword to this new edition of The Divine Companion, that the singing of church music from speciallyconstructed galleries began some 60 years earlier than has been generally thought, and that this publication, happening at that time, was a seminal work in the development of the music which we perform today.

This new edition which Francis Roads has edited is sturdily wire-bound, so that it will lie perfectly flat in use, is at a convenient A4 size, and is printed on environmentally friendly Forest Stewardship Council approved stock. There are almost 100 pages of music, but nothing is crowded; there is sufficient white space on every page and the music setting style will be very familiar to all who have attended WGMA gatherings over the years; complete lyrics in every case where space permits, but with a maximum of four verses of text underlayed. All of the editor’s emendations are clearly explained, and full attribution and biographical information on the composers is provided in a detailed introduction, which more than compensates for the slight shock of an initial introduction to them (in the Anthems section) where he mentions them simply as ‘eight contemporary London composers’. They were all among the most distinguished musicians of their time; almost all of the eight having been choristers and (later) gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, three having been Composer to the Chapel Royal, and two Master of the Choristers at St. Paul’s. Only one (Samuel Akeroyde) lacked distinction, other than that of him having been perhaps one of the most published secular composers of his day.

What will appeal to anyone who has attempted to transcribe from the facsimile editions of The Divine Companion available on the internet is the trouble that this editor has taken to explain (in detailed notes which are helpfully on the music pages themselves rather than being indexed off to another part of the volume) those things which Playford didn’t make clear or didn’t appreciate were not; an instance of a long metre tune having been adapted to a common metre text; unmarked (in the original) changes of time signature; editorial cadence points in the canons, as well as any other matter which requires explanation or clarification in any way; it has all been done, and explained by the editor as simply and as clearly as possible. He suggests where bass parts are intended to be instrumental, and—in a bold stroke—has added third editorial parts to two-part settings, where the texture might otherwise have been thin, or simply to make them useable by smaller groups of singers, or by quires without (for instance) male tenors. This alone makes this edition of The Divine Companion an eminently useable resource for both quire and choir. The book is fully indexed by title and by category (Psalms and Hymns, Songs, Canons) and—in a generous gesture entirely fitting to the man and the movement— the editor has completed his foreword to this edition with the words ‘copies of all pages in this book may be freely made for amateur use’.

‘The Divine Companion: Henry Playford’s 1722 Compilation of One, Two, and Three Part Music, Edited for modern choirs by Francis Roads. is available from Fast Print Bookshop or from Amazon, price: £9.99


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