Treasure of the month

Durham Cathedral has acquired an internationally renowned collection of manuscripts and historic artefacts over the centuries. Each month we feature one of these objects as 'Treasure of the Month' on our website.

Some items from the Cathedral's collections are on display in Open Treasure, a new world-class visitor experience at the heart of the Cathedral's medieval monastic buildings. 

Treasure of the Month: September - The First, Second and Third books of Theatre Musick, London, 1698-1700

Durham Cathedral’s music collection is best known for its early seventeenth century manuscripts. Twenty-nine books belonging to the period 1625 to 1640 still survive at Durham; these represent approximately 6% of the surviving English liturgical music manuscripts of the period. However, Treasure of the Month for September shines a light on one of the key items not from the manuscript collections, but from the printed music collections.

Unlike much of the music held in the collections of Durham Cathedral, the music contained in The First, Second and Third Books of Theatre Musick is not religious in nature, but secular – containing the latest theatre and dance tunes of the late seventeenth century, including, amongst others, music composed for the new dances which were held in honour of William III’s birthday, and ‘all the New French Dances now in use at Publick Balls and Dancing-Schools’. They were intended to make popular theatre music accessible to beginners, providing ‘plain and easy rules with the best instructions for learners on the violin’. The frontispiece scene, depicting a Baroque theatre, is especially acclaimed.
The books include music by a range of composers, including the popular contemporary composer John Eccles (d.1735). Eccles was very active as a composer for the theatre, and from the 1690s wrote a large amount of incidental music, regularly composing for Drury Lane Theatre from 1693, and for the theatre company at Lincoln's Inn Fields from 1695. He was appointed to the King's Private Music in 1694, and became Master of the King's Musick in 1700, composing music for the coronation of Queen Anne in 1702. He was the only Master of the King's Musick in the history of the post to serve four monarchs (King William III, Queen Anne, King George I and King George II). His opera Rinaldo and Armida, the tale of a Saracen sorceress who enchants a handsome soldier in her magical garden, who then is rescued by his comrades, is included in the first volume here – the only named dramatic work.
This set of three books were bound together in one volume, which has contributed to their survival.
This volume – along with a number of other treasures from Durham Cathedral’s Library collections, celebrating the story of music in the Cathedral over the centuries – will be on display as part of the ‘Making A Joyful Noise! Music at Durham Cathedral’ exhibition, in Open Treasure, from 19th September.