Instruments and Musicians

"Before passing into the hall ten musicians appeared each with a lute and two boys who sang very well some sonnetts in praise of the prince and his father."
Anonymous, 1611
Oberon, the faery Prince

In the Stuart era most musicians were skilled on more than one instrument. The evidence suggests that most dance music was performed from memory and may have included sections of improvisation. In some masques, the instrumentalists have been recorded as wearing costumes. The instruments that we know were used in masques can be divided into these sections:

Bowed Strings:
Treble, tenor and bass viols (bass = viola da gamba), several sizes of violin (which has a more brilliant tone than the viol and was popular in Carolingian times, alongside virtuosos).

The shawm (forerunner of the oboe), transverse flute, penetrating recorder, the cornett which were all available in varying sizes. Bagpipes and tabors could also be used, as well as brass instruments such as the trumpet or sackbut (trombone).

Plucked Strings:
Lute, mandora, the mean, the bandora, the theorbo which were often used to accompany singing and dancing. Rarer items included the cittern, gittern and guitar.

Did you know?

Harps, harpsichords and therbos were most commonly used to act as a continuo instrument; this meant that they provided a harmonic structure to the music. It was an essential structural element to the development of Baroque music.

What did they look like?

Did you know?
In the Stuart era, the orchestra was referred to as “the music” or “the consort”, however some early Tudor accounts also refer to it as “the noise”. The instrument sections above might sometimes stick together, preserving the tone of a single family, or they might be mixed together. When they were mixed together the music was sometimes referred to as being “broken”.

Who were the musicians?

The Chapel Royal and the King’s Band
The Chapel Royal was a hugely influential body of musicians and clergy, whose work helped to promote the development of English music. There are records of its existence from the twelfth century. It continued to exist under James I and Charles I, developing music, primarily of a religious nature. Charles I also created the King’s Band, which consisted of 6 recorders, 3 flutes, 9 oboes and sackbuts, 12 violins, drums, trumpets pipes and 24 lutes and voices. This incorporated extraordinarily talented vocalists and instrumentalists to accompany the royal household whenever or wherever they wished.  Nicholas Lanier was appointed as the “Master of the Musick” in 1625. Throughout Jacobean and Caroline eras, players from both were employed to perform in masques; however, they were more commonly drawn from the King’s Music. With the death of Charles I in 1649 the Chapel ceased to be used.

Did you know?
The post “Master of the Musick” is thought to be an early version of the title of Poet Laureate!

Nicholas Lanier, 1613, unknown painter

Nicholas Lanier: Early Poet Laureate
Lanier came from a family of musicians; his grandfather, Nicholas Lanier the Elder, was a court musician to King Henry II of France. He learnt to play the sackbut, and later became a lutenist for the King. He composed music for several masques and worked with other musicians to do this. One masque he was involved with was “The Masque of Augurs“. In the 1620s he spent time in Italy and introduced the Italian style into poetry and song in England. He was a distinguished, highly talented musician. The involvement of such an eminent musician in masques shows their importance for the Stuart court.

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Parties at the Stuart Court

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Playing the Music

Discover the early instruments found at the Palais Lascaris in Nice!