Amidst the cosmopolitan, fashion-obsessed concert life of later eighteenth-century London there existed a discrete counterculture borne of native musical culture. Now forgotten, this Enlightenment school of musical thinkers sought to further music by offering an alternative vision based on a high-minded intellectual curiosity. Perceiving only empty ostentation in mainstream music, they pursued their vision through recourse to universal exemplars from science, nature and ancient authority. Central to this group of musical thinkers was the now little-known figure of Benjamin Cooke. As organist of Westminster Abbey and conductor of the Academy of Ancient Music for much of the second half of the eighteenth century, Cooke was prominent and respected in his day as a composer, teacher, organist and theorist. This book shows how, through his creativity, historicism and theorising, Cooke was instrumental in defining and proffering an Enlightenment-inspired reassessment of musical composition and thinking at the Academy. The picture portrayed counters the current tendency to deride English music and composers of the eighteenth century as conservative and provincial. On the contrary, Cooke and other Academicians drew on a rich theoretical and intellectual hinterland, informed by principal currents in Enlightenment thought. This book reveals how such interests foreshadowed key developments that would dominate European music in the nineteenth century and after. It casts new and valuable light on our understanding, not just of English eighteenth-century musical life, but of Enlightenment culture more generally. TIM EGGINGTON is is College Librarian at Queens' College, Cambridge.
The Advancement of Music in Enlightenment England