The development of concert life in London

The public concert, as an institution, dates from England from the Restoration period [from the 1660s]; previously music, unless ecclesiastical or dramatic in character, had been essentially the art of a small circle.  The largess of aristocratic patronage and the profits of publication were the composers’ rewards.  But with the middle of the seventeenth century there came a change; the world of fashion tended more and more to be centralized in the metropolis, and, with the abandonment of the country coteries and quasi-fuedal households of the nobility, the musician (unless attached to some provincial cathedral) found himself more and more obliged to be a Londoner, while the rapid advance of technical attainments, both instrumental and vocal, simultaneously produced a more differentiation between professional and the amateur.  It is in the latter years of the Commonwealth that we see the first signs of new order; Oliver Cromwell gives State concerts at Whitehall, performances in London taverns seem, if we may judge from a passage near the beginning of Pepy’s diary, to have been familiar occurrences, and at Oxford, where Anthony Wood’s memoir’s give us the picture of a vigorous musical life, weekly concerts were held in six of the colleges as well as in private houses.  The remarkable playing of Thomas Baltzar, a violinist from Lübeck, who came to England in 1656 and was, after the Restoration, appointed a member of Charles II’s private music, gave a great impulse towards virtuosity.  Public concerts after the Restoration began modestly with meetings in a house near St. Paul’s Cathedral, where people could drink and smoke and sing catches and listen to organ music.  These were followed, in 1672, by a series of concerts given at Whitefriars by John Banister, formerly one of the King’s violinists, and later continued in other buildings.  Here music, both vocal and instrumental, was performed, according to the original advertisement, “by excellent masters” at four o’clock every afternoon, and the charge for admission was one shilling.  Six years later Thomas Britton, an itinerant coal-dealer with a keen love for music, started at his house in Clerkenwell weekly concerts (at first open, afterwards with an annual subscription of ten shillings), which lasted till 1714 and grew gradually into considerable fame (Handel was, in their last years, a frequent performer); while about 1680 a room in Villiers Street was opened and became much in request for fashionable performances, and before the end of the century we hear of several more.  These concerts came to a culmination in the celebrations of St. Cecilia’s day (22 November), of which we first hear in 1683, and subsequently every year (with two or three exceptions) till 1703.  They were managed by a body called the Musical Society, which commissioned a distinguished poet to write an ode in praise of music, and a distinguished composer to set it.  This was performed at a concert given, from 1864 onwards, at Stationer’s Hall; and in addition to this, there was also, during the last ten years of the celebrations, a special service, with music of particular importance, at St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.  Among the poets who lent themselves to these occasions were Dryden and Congreve, and among the composers Purcell, Blow, Turner, Clarke, Eccles, and Daniel Purcell; and there is no doubt that they filled a very noteworthy place in the musical life of London.  The celebrations after 1703 were of a much less regular character; Pope’s well-known ode was written in 1708, but not set till long afterwards.  Handel rest, in 1736 and 1739, both of Dryden’s odes, written for the 1697 and 1687 festivals. 

Walker, Ernest (1952) A History of Music in England.  Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, p.177-178.