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Music for London Entertainment is a series of 21 facsimile volumes from original editions and manuscripts representing a selection of instrumental, orchestral and vocal music from the theatres, opera houses, pleasure gardens and ballrooms of London during the mid-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many of the manuscripts included in the series contain music never previously published.

In the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, London was the largest and the most prosperous city in the world: a centre of enterprise, a magnet to artists of all sorts from other countries, and with its relatively liberal religious and political audience a haven for the persecuted.

The London public, with its growing merchant and professional classes, demanded entertainment. Theatrical and musical life flourished. Music printing was quick and cheap. The city’s wealth meant that it attracted many of the finest musicians from abroad: visitors—of whom many came to stay—included, from Germany, Pepusch, Handel, Gluck, the boy Mozart, J. C. Bach and Haydn; from Italy, Draghi, Giovanni Bononcini, Geminiani, Giardini and Tommaso Giordani; from France and the Low Countries, Galliard, Loeillet, De Fesch and Barthélemon.

In this vigorous and cosmopolitan setting, English music developed a style of its own: an eclectic one, to be sure, compounded of features that drew on current fashion (the Italian opera), the dictates of the English language and the folk traditions that belonged with it, and the needs—both public and domestic—of the public it was designed for. It was practised in the home, in the tavern, in the pleasure gardens and assembly rooms, and above all in the theatre, where not only did it play a central role in operatic performances but also made up an important part of ‘straight’ plays, with entr’actes and dances and songs.

After Purcell, England may have produced no front-rank genius: but the demand that such prodigiously talented men as Thomas Arne, William Boyce, Stephen Storace and James Hook (to name a small selection) sought to meet was different from that facing their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. They had no interest in the extremes represented by the fire and languor of the Italians, the sophisticated artificialities of the French, the intellectual and emotional complexities of the Germans. The English style, fresh and direct, lyrical and ‘airy’, has been little studied and little understood. Its most characteristic manifestation is entertainment music: and the objective of the present series, Music for London Entertainment 1660–1800, is to make available a broad selection of this important and attractive repertory and encourage its revival.

No further volumes will be published in this series.

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