John Playford

John Playford

John Playford was born in Norwich in 1623 and died in London in 1686. He served an apprenticeship with a publisher (John Benson) from 1639/40 to 1647, after which he opened a shop in the porch of Temple Church. A bookseller and publisher, Playford is best known for his publication of The English Dancing Master in 1651. The work contains both the music and instructions for English country dances. This came about after Playford was working as a (Civil) war correspondent and was captured by Cromwell's men and told that, if he valued his freedom (as a sympathiser with the King) he might consider a change of career. Although many of the tunes in the book are attributed to him today, he probably did not write any of them. Most were popular melodies that had existed for years. John Playford published several other collections of music, including:

  • Apollo's Banquet (1678) - tunes and jigs for the violin
  • The Musical Companion (1667) - songs and catches
  • Musick's Handmaid (1678) - songs for the virginal and harpsichord
  • The Division Violin (1685) - a set of 26 tunes which start simply and build complex variations ("divisions") on the original melody. While many of the pieces were accessible to amateurs, several featured advanced techniques (for the time) like scordatura, fingered double stops, and large interval leaps across the strings.
  • A Musicall Banquet (1651)
  • Catch that Catch Can (1652)
  • A Booke of New Lessons for Cithern (1652, revised 1666 as Musick's Delight on the Cithren)
  • Musick's Recreation on the Lyra Viol (1652)
  • A Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick (1654)
  • Choice Musick to the Psalmes of David (1656)

Playford retired in 1684 and was succeeded in his publishing business by his son, Henry Playford.


  • Randel, Don Michael, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (1996), Belknap Press. ISBN 0-674-37299-9.

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