the violin, is so universally courted, and sought after to be had of the best sort, that some say England has dispeopled Italy of violins” - Roger North, 1728

MIAKO KLEIN  [baroque violin]

Jia Lim [harpsichord / organ]

Maria Elena Medina [viola da gamba]

Chen Zhang [theorbo / baroque guitar]

English violin music from its beginnings until 1750


England experienced a heyday of consort music, lute chants and madrigals well into the 17th century, which were practiced mainly and extensively in the courts of music-loving monarchs. This initially collapsed during the civil war between the parliamentarians and royalists, which the first were able to win. King Charles I was executed, and this was followed by the rule of Oliver Cromwealth during the time of the "Commonwealth of England", which strictly forbade the public practice of music and closed all theaters - at a time when the rest of Europe did Instrumental music and Italian opera flourished.

In England music was continued privately in houses and taverns, and a very active bourgeois music-making practice developed. Only at the time of the restoration of the monarchy with the takeover of power by King Charles II in 1660 were the theaters reopened and the royal music continued at his court. Charles II had previously been in French exile for a long time, where he took great pleasure in French music, and then, impressed by Jean-Baptiste Lully's “Vingt-Quatre Violins du Roi” at the Versailles court, his own “Four and Twenty Violins” at the Versailles court Court established. He had an aversion ("detestation of fancies") to the early consort music and preferred the light dance music in the French style, while in the rest of England the Italian style of music was gaining popularity.


Around 1700 London grew to become the cultural center of Europe. Concert life flourished in many public places that were not only accessible to the upper class of society. Music printing also flourished and had numerous music-loving and performing customers. The most important musicians from all over Europe came to England to present themselves there and to make a name for themselves: “Anyone who thinks they are present in music at these times goes to England”, as Mattheson noted in 1713. Among them were four of the most important students of the violin master Corelli, who was almost idolized in England at the time: Francesco Geminiani, who spent most of his life in London from 1714-1759, Gasparo Visconti, also known as “Gasparini” (in London from 1702 -1706), Pietro Castrucci (1715-50) - he was director of Handel's opera for over 20 years, and Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli (1719-72), who took over the musical direction of the Drury Lane Theater Band.


But how did the violin find its way from the continent to England? And apart from the most famous names like Purcell and Handel, who composed violin music there, and how was it stylistically shaped? 

Many composers we meet here have been forgotten, and in general English literature of the 17th century may be underappreciated, as with the revival of music-making in amateur circles we find much compositionally simple literature compared to what arose on the continent. But the immigrants in particular contributed to the creation of an interesting, internationally mixed style in England - a mixture of the very own harmony of English consort music, the spontaneous, virtuoso playing of Italy and the lightness of French dances.