The Playford Collection

The Playford Collection

I've been experimenting with a few tools to do useful things in directories full of .abc tune files:
Tune lister -- Collection lister -- Session lister
These are "works in progress" that I've included here to get ideas for making them more useful.

This is my collection of portions of the online Playford collection, which may be found at several other places on the Net. I've collected ABC versions of the tunes here from several sites, often sent to me via email by people who want their collection mirrored, and typed a good number of them myself. Any that you see with chords are probably mine. Also, I've corrected a lot of ABC formatting problems, mostly from incorrect line wrapping by email software. If you find errors, send me mail.

The following notes are from the Ceolas Celtic music archive, with a few minor changes:

Some information about the Playford collection:

For those of you not familiar with Playford, it was the first collection of popular dance tunes published in the British Isles. It was first published in London in 1651, and sold to the English country dancing market. Some of the tunes are of Scottish and Irish origin (e.g., "Broom of the Cowdenknowes"), but that didn't mean much back then.

It was a big hit, and it remained in print through various editions until 1728.

It's not exactly traditional music. It was popular music intended for an urban audience. The various editions were updated with the hits of the day--songs from popular plays and special music used by professional dancers. However, quite a lot of the material can be found in traditional circulation. Whether this was true before the publication would be a matter for scholars to debate.

English country dancing is first mentioned in the Elizabethan period. Some of the tunes were probably at least 100 years old when they were published. [Many of the older tunes existed as songs rather than strictly dance tunes.]

You can find background information and instructions on doing the dances in "The Playford Ball" by Kate Van Winkle Keller and Genevieve Shimer (A Cappella Books, 1990).

John Playford (1623-1686) was a successful London music publisher. A royalist, he kept a low profile during the Commonwealth and came into political favour with the return of Charles II. He catered to the taste of the emerging bourgeois class which preferred country dancing to the more formal galliards and other formal dances popular with the nobility before the Civil War. His business was carried on by his son Henry.

The actual title of the work was:

        The English Dancing Master, or, 
        Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances,
        with the Tune to each Dance
The book also contained instructions for all the dances. However, the instructions assume familiarity with the style. Since there is not an unbroken tradition of country dancing, modern English country dancing is an educated reconstruction of the old dances.

The first edition of "The English Dancing Master" contained many modal tunes, including one in the Phrygian mode. In later editions, the old modal tunes were dropped or revised to fit into "modern" major/minor tonality.

The abc files here are mostly from the first edition (1651), with additional tunes from later editions.

A printed edition is now available from

Dance Horizons, 1801 East 26th St., Brooklyn, New York 11229.
Dance Books Ltd,9 Cecil Court, London WC2N  4EZ, England

There are other copies of Playford's music and dance instructions on the Web, but I've given up trying to keep track of them as they move around. Try your favorite search site. If you find a Playford tune that isn't here, you can send me a copy and I'll add it. Please include information about where you got it, and the publication date if you can find it.