Birth: 1623 in Norwich, England
Death: 1686 in London, England
Although John Playford did publish volumes on political and miscellaneous subjects he is best remembered for the musical works that appeared as a result of his efforts. Raised in a large family of scribes, his disciplined dedication to his work was molded by a sincere and lifelong devotion to God's divine service. Thought to have been educated at a church choir school, he gained immense insight into his field while working as an apprentice to John Benson in London for seven years. After becoming a member of the Yeomanry of the Stationers' Company, he began to make negotiations as a publisher. He established his business at the Temple Church, where he eventually achieved the post of clerk. Shortly before that time he learned the danger of producing literature on royalist politics and, presumably under pressure from the authorities, he redirected most of his business toward a less risky course: music. From then both he and his wife, Hannah, enthusiastically and laboriously plunged into their work, she in maintaining her own girls' boarding school and he with his London-based publishing company.
After being appointed court assistant to the king, Playford undertook the production of prosperous almanacs and psalms. He also published works ranging from collections of variations for the violin, to instruction books for the viol and flageolet, to a source book of English folk music, generally using Thomas East's typefaces. Popular titles he helped to produce include Courtly Masquing Ayres of Two Parts (1662), his well-known The English Dancing Master (1650), Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick (1654), and The Whole Book of Psalms with the Usual Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1673). During his career he also worked with Thomas Harper and William Godbid. Many of his volumes complemented his work at the Temple Church, with the Company of Parish Clerks of London, and as vicar-choral of St. Paul's Cathedral, as they were fulfillments of his aspirations to harmonically correct existing choral tunes and to improve the quality of worship services.
John Playford eventually passed his business over to his son Henry, and the company continued to produce works of the same subject and standard. However, its status fell as its new owner found he was unable to compete with other publishers and unable to adequately adapt his outdated methods of promoting his sales, which occurred around the time he parted the business with Robert Carr. Through his son's efforts, dozens of John Playford's titles were updated and reissued including The Second Book of the Pleasant Musical Companion, Apollo's Banquet, The Second Part of Musick's Hand-Maid, and The Pleasant Companion...for the Flageolet. Even though the music of his publications is not fashionably revisited by performers, John Playford's works continue to be of interest to scholars, and he is still remembered for reigning the music publishing world between the mid- and late-1600s.
- Meredith Gailey (All Music Guide)