Roman Vocal Music in England, 1660-1710: Court, Connoisseurs and the Culture of Collecting

Ester Lebedinski

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the dissemination and appropriation of Roman vocal music in England, 1660–1710. Associated with powerful courts and rarefied learning, Roman vocal music was a prestigious object of curiosity for rulers and dilettantes. The lack of musical sources and absence of musicians familiar with the repertoire suggests that Roman vocal music was not introduced into England until the 1660s when the court engaged Vincenzo Albrici (1631–90) as the leader of Charles II’s Italian ensemble. Although the ensemble was previously thought to have been an opera troupe, this thesis uses newly discovered letters to argue that Albrici was hired by Sir Henry Bennet and Sir Bernard Gascoigne on his merits as a church and chamber music composer. I argue that Charles II’s patronage of the Italian ensemble was a means of social distinction and legitimation of power, similar to the use of Roman vocal music by continental rulers including Cardinal Mazarin who introduced Charles to the concept of Roman vocal music during Charles’s exile in Paris.
That Roman vocal music was a connoisseurs’ repertoire carrying significant social cachet is furthermore illustrated by Samuel Pepys’s engagement with it in the little-researched musical environment of the Royal Society of London. In the dilettante culture of collecting and observation, Roman vocal music was treated as a foreign curiosity and examined in concert as a way of better understanding the compositional secrets published in Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis (1650). Kircher’s influence on English attitudes towards Roman vocal music is further illustrated by the collecting and imitative practices of Henry Aldrich (1648–1710), whose famous recompositions of motets by Roman composers were possibly a way of understanding the effects Kircher claimed that Carissimi and Palestrina’s music had on their listeners. Aldrich’s collecting arguably was part of a larger antiquarian enterprise to maintain and improve the English cathedral music tradition, which had repeatedly been thrown into question by the religio-political upheavals of the seventeenth century. This enterprise was later taken up by the early eighteenth-century ancient music movement, which adopted Roman vocal music after Aldrich’s death through collecting efforts and performances of motets and oratorios by Carissimi and Palestrina.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rose, Stephen, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Roman Vocal Music
  • Giacomo Carissimi
  • Bonifacio Graziani
  • Charles II
  • Vincenzo Albrici
  • Henry Aldrich
  • Samuel Pepys
  • Italian music
  • music collecting
  • imitatio
  • antiquarianism
  • cultural exchange
  • England
  • 17th century

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