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In praise of God or Plutus? A re-examination of the motivations behind the seventeenth-century Laudians' musical practices in the English Chapel Royal

Wednesday 22 January 2020, 4.00PM to 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Hannah Rodger

Within the sixteenth century, English reformers, driven by their hatred of Catholicism, had aimed to eradicate “popish”, complex, sacred music practices. However, in the 1620s and 30s, a new ceremonialist tradition, led by Archbishop William Laud, was promoted; this thus became known as Laudianism. The Laudians consequently aimed to restore the true ‘grandeur of Christian truth.’ Nowhere were these beautifications more fervently promoted than within the Chapel Royal. Here, Archbishop Laud and Charles I both aimed to display the splendour of the Church of England through elaborate physical ceremonial practices, architectural church decorations, and musical works with rich polyphonic textures, intricate harmonies and theatrical word setting techniques. These were supposedly included to enhance the congregations’ devotions, as God ‘hath framed that body of yours… let Him have the honour both of head and knee, and every member else’ (Beveridge, 1846). Subsequently, within past musicology, it has been presumed that such works were promoted to further the Laudians’ beliefs that music was ‘an ornament to God’s service and an help to our own devotion’ (Cuming, 1961). However, this seminar will debate whether these elaborate, musical services, were more politically and economically, rather than religiously, motivated.

This seminar will draw on new investigations into the seventeenth-century Chapel Royal’s wordbook (Rawl. Poet 23) and bass partbooks (Lambeth 764, Ojc 180/181), largely unexplored musical manuscripts, alongside the Chapel Royal’s service and treasury records, and personal accounts. These examinations have revealed that many of the contained pieces were utilised to praise God and recognise him as the ultimate authority over all on earth. However, many of the text selections and musical techniques also reveal ulterior motives. Therefore, it must not be forgotten that the Chapel Royal also held an important dual political function. Firstly, several of these works appear to have been performed to exemplify the splendour and power of the English court, monarchy, and Church of England to visitors, and dissuade people from returning to Catholicism. Further, these musical performances could also have been conducted as forms of royal/caesaro - sacramentalism to promote Charles I’s belief in his divine supremacy. Such works that gave praise to Charles and his loyal subjects, and aligned with the King’s and Laud’s religious beliefs, would have surely also encouraged patronage.

This seminar paper will consequently present urgently needed re-examinations of the Laudians’ musical practices, moving beyond previous historical generalisations and drawing on concentrated source studies, to re-evaluate their motivations, to determine whether the Chapel Royal’s musical performances were more in praise of God or Plutus.

Hannah Rodger is a third-year PhD student at the University of York, funded by a WRoCAH AHRC studentship and a Durham Residential Research Library bursary, where she is re-examining the musical practices of the English, early seventeenth-century Laudians. Previously, Hannah obtained her BA in Music (2016) and MA in Music (English Church Music pathway, 2017) from the University of York. She also recently completed a three-month PhD placement with the British Library to investigate archival digitisation practices and is the assistant at the University of York Music Press. Hannah has also been appointed as the Rhinehart Postdoctoral Fellow at Appalachian State University, NC, which will commence in September 2020.

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