Conductor and festival director Tom Hammond thinks we should all bother with music. In this guest post, he explains why and previews this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music.

I’m writing this a month before the opening of the 2021 Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM), with the sweaty brow of the accidental concert promoter desperately hoping to see more tickets flying off the shelves. Postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Festival is particularly special because for many people it will be the first time they will have enjoyed live music in over a year. For me, my co-artistic director, James Francis Brown, and indeed the whole Festival team, the challenge this year is presenting live music in a COVID-secure environment to ensure the comfort, safety and enjoyment of our audiences, performers and staff. There is the additional challenge of social distancing which means that venues cannot operate at full capacity and we can only offer a limited number of tickets for each performance. We are fortunate to receive the support of Arts Council England and a number of charitable trusts and foundations, county, district and town councils, while a growing Friends Scheme allows individuals to play an important role in furthering the Festival’s scope and potential.

Of course, we are not the only music festival or concert promoter trying to square the circle of socially-distanced events and the consequent reduction in ticket revenue, but there are always solutions if you look for them, and to accommodate as many people as possible, within the limitations of social distancing, many of our concerts will be repeated. This has also allowed us a certain amount of flexibility with regard to concert start times, so people may choose to attend an early evening concert and then go on to dinner, or come and enjoy some post-dinner music with us!

We’ve programmed some fabulous music and musicians in this our fifth year: Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir CBE is our Featured Living Composer and her music will be performed by Albion Quartet, the Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra, and Chloē Hanslip and Danny Driver. Inventor of the string quartet Joseph Haydn, who has a special connection with Hertfordshire, is celebrated in Albion Quartet’s opening concert, and we’re also featuring music by Pärt, Walton, Sibelius, Bartok, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart and James Francis Brown. Pianist Florian Mitrea will also give the world premiere of a work by Alan Mills.

It’s not just classical music traditionally presented (although there’s plenty of that, and no apologies for it!). We’re delighted to welcome back the exuberant ZRI, who will mash classical music with gypsy and klezmer styles in a performance at McMullen’s Brewery in Hertford. Recorder ensemble Fontanella present a themed programme based around the year 1670, a period in musical history which is strangely parallel to our own times. The concert is also a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Friends Meeting House in Hertford, which has been in continuous use since it was founded.

Alongside the music, we have education and outreach projects – masterclasses with Chloe Hanslip at Queenswood School, and Music in Mind with members of Orchestra of the Swan, bringing music to people with dementia in selected care homes throughout the county. The irrepressible “virtuoso of the arts” Matthew Sharp weaves bewitching words and magical music in an enthralling afternoon of storytelling for younger children and their families, and there’s even an opportunity to explore historic Hertford on a guided walk.

Basically shed-loads of stuff – and really good stuff!

Since the Festival began – the initial germ of the idea coming to me back in 2015 – we’ve welcomed around 3000 people to concerts in Hertford and Hertfordshire, given education and performance opportunities to around 500 younger people (schoolchildren as well as conservatoire-level students) and raised something like £150,000 in external funds and Box Office revenue. Raising that sort of money for music is incredibly hard work as anyone who’s ever tried will know, taking hours of your life that could be spent doing vastly more enjoyable things….

The money that we’ve raised has gone directly into the music economy via paying our artists – about £75,000 on musician’s fees alone, and we pay at a decent rate –  plus all the other elements of the musical food chain, including commissions, hire of copyright materials, piano tuners, keyboard hire, sound and lighting equipment, etc., etc. The pandemic hit musicians and the musical food chain hard, and it feels especially important to be breathing life back into the industry through our activities this June.

Where that money certainly isn’t going is into my back pocket, nor that of my co-Artistic Director. We’ve also got a very hard-working board of trustees, because we’re now properly formalised as a charity, plus our FOH team who also do it for the love of music.

Why on earth would anyone do this?!

I have asked myself that question many times, not least as so many areas of running a Festival are things for which I’ve had absolutely no training, experience nor aptitude and I’m already pretty busy with my main work as a conductor and producer. But, when I read my social media newsfeeds, or see classical music mentioned in the national press, it’s too often report after report about cuts in music education and how music is being marginalised. Or how to make it ‘relevant’. Or how it’s seen as for only posh people…. You don’t need me to go on because it’s jaw-clenchingly boring to do so, and moaning is too easy and the time could be better spent doing something about it.

What I and my colleagues at HFoM are trying to do, albeit in a nascent way which needs constant refinement, is simply to present amazing music in appropriate spaces that heighten the audience experience, plus open out opportunities for young people, and try to buck the above trend. As a colleague of mine once said to me, we are attempting to act as incubators of this amazing art form and when the day finally comes and politicians actually read the gazillions of studies that show how music helps people in so many ways and fund it again, someone can buy us all a pint.

Until then, if anyone fancies coming along and helping us continue beyond this year, we have tickets to sell! Hertford is only 20 miles from by central London, easily accessible by road and rail, and has a good selection of shops and eateries with attractive countryside nearby. It will be light well into the evening, hopefully sunny and warm too. Why not come and join us?

Hertfordshire Festival of Music runs from 4-10 June 2021. This year’s Principal Artist is violinist Chloë Hanslip, who will be giving masterclasses and performances during the festival. Full programme of events

Tom Hammond is co-Artistic Director of Hertfordshire Festival of Music, and a conductor and record producer.

www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk

Meet the Artist interview with Tom Hammond

Violinist Chloë Hanslip is Principal Artist at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. Here she shares her musical insights and inspirations, and reminds us that being a musician is not just about practicing……


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I grew up in a very musical household – my mother had been a ballet teacher, my sister was a pianist studying at RAM when I was born, and my Grandmother, who lived with us, was a piano teacher so music was everywhere! As I grew older my teachers obviously had a huge influence on my playing, as did having the opportunity to play for, and work with, incredible musicians such as Mariss Jansons and Ida Haendel.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Although there have been some challenges and the change from being perceived as a prodigy to being accepted as a whole musician is notoriously complicated, I think that I have been quite lucky. I have also always tried to focus on the positives and to grow, use and learn from any of the less pleasant aspects!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

Well, I am my own harshest critic (I think most musicians are!) and I’m always finding things that I would like to do differently…. that being said, the Beethoven cycle that Danny Driver and I performed and recorded a few years ago is something that I am so happy to have been able to do.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

When I was younger my heart was with Romantic music and I loved playing hugely virtuosic works. I still really enjoy performing those works but have been glad to expand my horizons over the years to include everything from Baroque to Contemporary! I love having the opportunity to bounce from one genre to the next in quick succession and think each one helps to inform the others, so hopefully it is a never ending circle of all works getting better each time I perform them.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I go hiking and walking in nature and the mountains as much as possible! Also, now that I have a one year old, the reminder to look at things with fresh eyes definitely also inspires.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

For works with orchestras it’s largely based on what I’m invited to perform! For recitals Danny and I will discuss what works we haven’t done that we would like to add to our repertoire and then we choose contrasting pieces to land on programmes that have interest and flow to them.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favourite concert venue is whichever one I’m performing in at that moment! Seriously though, there is something very special about Wigmore Hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

There are so many wonderful initiatives out there that I’m not sure I can add to them, but I think exposure to and demystifying the classical music world is key. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’ve been so lucky to have many wonderful experiences, but performing at the Proms for the first time is definitely up there at the top!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Oh gosh, without wanting to sound self-aggrandising, if I can give just one person joy with my playing then that’s success to me.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Stay true to yourself! And don’t just practice – go for walks, to museums, to shops….and listen to everything. There has to be balance, and life informs the way we approach music as much as music informs the way we approach life.

Chloë Hanslip performs at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival Music, with Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra and conductor Tom Hammond, and in recital with pianist Danny Driver. She will also be giving masterclasses at Queenswood School, Hatfield, as part of the Festival. Full details here


Chloë Hanslip (b. 1987) has already established herself as an artist of distinction on the international stage. Prodigiously talented, she made her BBC Proms debut at fourteen and her US concerto debut at fifteen and has performed at major venues in the UK (Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall), Europe (Vienna Musikverein, Hamburg Laeiszhalle, Paris Louvre and Salle Gaveau, St Petersburg Hermitage) as well as Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Arts Space in Tokyo and the Seoul Arts Centre.

Read more

The quote in the title is from celebrated pianist Leon Fleisher, who died in August 2020 at the age of 92.

Leon Fleisher New York Times

In the many tributes to him, his wisdom and good sense, as a musician and a human being, and his rich legacy will live on in the memories of his performances, his recordings, his pupils (who include Jonathan Biss and Yefim Bronfman), and teachers, who pass on his wisdom on to their own students.

Back in 2008, in an interview with The Times newspaper, Leon Fleisher said of pianists: We are athletes, but we’re athletes with small muscles. There is a limit. Now you get kids who can do things with such extraordinary brilliance on the keyboard that they belong in the circus. But it ain’t got nothing to do with music-making.”

Fleisher was primarily referring to practising and the habit of pianists to work themselves too hard, to the point where practising becomes harmful rather than helpful. But I find his comment about the circus and keyboard athletics, and the artistry of musicians interesting too.

How many of us have marvelled at the fleet fingers of young pianists, some as young as 10 or 11 (and the internet is awash with videos of these mini ‘virtuosi’)? The ability to play very fast, very accurately is, for many, both inside and outside the profession, a mark of the pianist’s facility and executive function. For those less versed in the true exigencies of the profession, it is a sign of brilliance – and the younger, and faster, the player, the more we exclaim “genius!”.

And in addition to all those videos of fleet-fingered would-be Ashkenazys and Argerichs, there are any number of tutorials offering advice on how to achieve such velocity: finger drills and exercises to train muscles and reflexes, while simultaneously numbing the mind.

Fleisher is right: keyboard circus tricks have nothing to do with music-making. Pianists are not performing dogs – because the craft of the musician, and the art of music-making, goes far, far beyond mere piano pyrotechnics. It doesn’t matter how fast you can play, if you cannot communicate the deeper message of the music, its emotion and its truth, then you are nothing more than a circus showman, a mere typist albeit with executive function, and what you present in the music is merely surface artifice. The pianist’s repertoire contains plenty of music written to test the player’s facilities and display astonishing keyboard athletics, but pure virtuosity should never take precedence over artistic vision, tone quality, and a proper appreciation of the narrative structure and architecture of the music. Add to this one’s musical knowledge, accrued through training and experience, and a broader discernment of what music-making is truly about, and at this point the music is truly brought to life, with integrity, honesty and communication.

Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM) takes place from Thursday 4th to Friday 10th of June. Postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, HFoM 2021 is particularly special as for many people it will be the first time they have enjoyed live music in over a year.

Now in its fifth edition, Hertfordshire Festival of Music has grown rapidly from a small weekend event to a major summer celebration of classical music, based in and around the attractive historic county town of Hertford.

An established part of the summer classical music calendar, under the direction and vision of co-Artistic Directors conductor Tom Hammond and composer James Francis Brown, HFoM is now one of the UK’s major music festivals, featuring international artists and ensembles alongside innovative outreach and educational projects. This
year’s Festival showcases a diverse range of artists and music.

HFoM is delighted to present prodigiously talented violinist Chloë Hanslip as this year’s Principal Artist. Praised for her “warmth and clarity” and “simply spellbinding” playing, Chloë Hanslip (b. 1987) has already established herself as an artist of distinction on the international stage.  During this year’s Festival, Chloë will perform as a soloist with the Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra in music by Pärt and Sibelius. She will also give two recitals with pianist Danny Driver and masterclasses at Queenswood School in partnership with Future Talent.

Judith Weir, CBE, is this year’s Featured Living Composer. Appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014, Weir’s richly communicative music is “consistently imaginative” and “genuinely ravishing” (Tom Service, The Guardian). Festival audiences will be able to enjoy performances of Judith’s music as well as gain insights into her creative life in an “in conversation” event with HFoM Artistic Directors Tom Hammond and James Francis Brown.

HFoM 2020 featured Artists/Ensembles:

  • Violinist Chloë Hanslip (“…wholly infectious conviction, spontaneity and panache… superbly accomplished performances…” Gramophone)
  • Pianist Danny Driver (“….a delight to hear performances as radiant as these” Seen & Heard International)
  • Albion Quartet (“The playing, by the excellent Albion, is masterly in its vividness, freedom and sensitivity” Sunday Times)
  • Matthew Sharp, cello/voice (“extraordinary cellist, virile baritone and compelling actor” Daily Telegraph)
  • Fontanella Recorder Consort (“Such beautiful playing, fabulous ensemble…what’s not to like?” Frome Concerts Group)
  • Pianist Florian Mitrea (“a mixture of phenomenal technique and ravishing musical intelligence” Cambridge Independent)
  • Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra, conducted by Tom Hammond
    ZRI (“unique and endlessly captivating…combining the raucous energy of an impromptu pub session with the style and sophistication of the concert hall” – Cambridge Music Festival)
  • Tom Hammond, conductor (“A serious contender for most promising maestro of his generation.” Musical Opinion

The Festival opens with two concerts by Albion Quartet which celebrate Hertfordshire’s ‘Haydn Connection’ (read more here) as well as showcasing music by Judith Weir, CBE.

In addition to more traditional concert settings, ZRI will play an informal “brewhouse session” at McMullen’s Brewery in Hertford, and there will also be an opportunity to watch a full concert orchestra at work in a “relaxed rehearsal” with the HFoM Festival Orchestra. 

From talks and guided walks to storytelling events for children with “virtuoso of the arts”, cellist and actor Matthew Sharp, a celebration of the Friends’ Meeting House in Hertford (the oldest still in use) and a festival finale including two of Beethoven’s best-loved sonatas for violin and piano, Hertfordshire Festival of Music brings together some of the finest international musicians in a varied range of creative and imaginative programmes. It promises to be a delicious, generous feast for music lovers who have been bereft of live music over the past year. 


Hertford is just over twenty miles from central London, easy to get to by rail and road but nestled in the beautiful countryside of the Lea Valley. Concerts generally take place within a ten minute stroll of the town’s centre, which boasts excellent restaurants, many independent shops and accommodation.

Since its launch in 2016, the Festival has presented concerts that have inspired extraordinary audience responses to artists such as Tasmin Little OBE, Dame Emma Kirkby, Stephen Hough CBE, Steven Isserlis CBE, the Carducci Quartet, the Galliard Ensemble and The Prince Consort. HFoM is fortunate to receive major support from Arts Council England and a number of charitable trusts and foundations, county, district and town councils, while a growing Friends Scheme allows individuals to play an important role in supporting the Festival and furthering its scope and potential.

The Festival offers affordable ticket prices, multi-event discounts, some free events, and a ticket scheme for under 18s and those in full-time education. The organisers have gone to every length to ensure that all venues are COVID-secure for the safety, comfort and enjoyment of audiences, performers and Festival staff.

HFoM exists to celebrate and nurture exceptional music-making, featuring some of the world’s finest performers. The Festival also supports professional and young musicians from Hertfordshire, presents fascinating music by living composers and devises major, innovative projects for education and participation.

Partner organisations: Queenswood School, Hertfordshire Music Service, Mudlarks Garden Café, Benslow Music Trust, Future Talent

Funders and supporters: Longmores Solicitors, Queenswood School, Handelsbanken, Harpenden Music Foundation, East Herts District Council, Hertford Town Council and Herts County Council, McMullen Brewing and Pubs.

HFoM is grateful to Arts Council England for its generous support of the Festival for 2021 and 2022.

Website: www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk
Twitter: @HertMusicFest
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Hertsmusicfest/
Registered Charity Number 1175716

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Amateur pianists – how has lockdown been for you?

What have you been playing?

Have you practised more or less during lockdown?

How has your motivation been?

Have you been able to continue with piano lessons? (If you have regular lessons.) How have you found Zoom lessons?

What has lockdown “taught” you?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section or contact me if you’d prefer to talk in confidence

Guest post by Jacky Colliss Harvey

If you had been standing in Buckingham Street (now York Buildings) off the westerly end of the Strand in London, on the evening of the 19th April 1687, looking out over the river and what had been the gardens of old York House, and with the York Watergate in front of you, you would have been privileged to overhear one of the finest voices in Europe coming from Number 12. The voice belonged to the castrato Siface (Giovanni Francesco Grossi) a man who according to the chronicler John Evelyn “disdained to show his talent to any but princes”; the house where he was performing belonged to Evelyn’s friend Mr Samuel Pepys, late Secretary to the Admiralty, one-time MP, and, from 1684 to 1686, President of the Royal Society. And of course creator, from 1660 to 1669, of the most famous diary in English history. It says all you need to know of Pepys’s reputation as a music-lover that here was Siface performing in his drawing room.

Samuel-Pepys

One of the great joys of researching Walking Pepys’s London were the insights it produced into the man himself, the chance to explore what you might call his inner geography. Alone with his Diary, Pepys was a man of strong passions, by no means all of them as admirable as his devotion to music, and of much ambition. He could be shamelessly calculating in his pursuit of women, professional and social advancement, and wealth; but when he speaks in his Diary of music and the effect it had on him, it is with the artless adoration of the truly besotted. “That which did please me beyond any thing in the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down,” begins one of his most famous descriptions of how music could possess him, after witnessing a performance of Decker and Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr: “so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of any thing, but remained all night transported…” I imagine every music-lover can recognise themselves in that experience. Then in the very next sentence Pepys the romantic is elbowed out the way by the bull-headed man of business, the ruler of his roost: the experience “makes me resolve to practice wind-musique, and to make my wife do the like.”

And when Pepys resolved to master a thing, he did exactly that. One of the secrets of his professional success was that he couldn’t see a system without wanting to better it. When teaching himself to play his recorder (purchased from Drumbleby the instrument-maker in the Strand), he notes how the getting of its fingering “is necessary for a man that would understand musique… though it be a ridiculous and troublesome way, and I know I shall be able hereafter to show the world a simpler”. October 1667 saw him investigating the workings of a ‘trump-marin’ (or tromba marina, a stringed instrument despite its name) of “one Monsieur Prin… it is most admirable and at first was a mystery to me that I should hear a whole concert of chords together at the end of a pause, but he showed me that it was only when the last notes were 5ths or 3rds, one to another, and then their sounds like an Echo did last so as they seemed to sound all together…. I was mightily pleased with it, and he did take great pains to shew me all he could do on it.”

As you might intuit from this, Pepys loved a new toy (he could go into ecstasies over a slide-rule); his library, now in Magdalene College, Cambridge, contains, alongside his 3,000 books and the manuscript Diary itself, an extraordinary relic of 17th-century ingenuity in the form of an ‘Arca Musarithmica’, a sort of wooden proto-computer, its movable slats as dry and fragile now as autumn leaves. By manipulating these, its inventor, Athanasius Kircher, had assured the world that “anyone, even the ἀμουσος [unmusical] may, through various applications of compositional instruments compose melodies according to a desired style.” Pepys was hardly unmusical (as his fortune increased he would eventually also own a flute, lute, viol, flageolet, lyra or bass viol, spinet, theorbo, violin and virginals), but he paid out 35 shillings, or about £200 today, simply for the accompanying book of instructions, making a trip to Duck Lane in Smithfield – now Little Britain; then one of London’s bookselling centres – to do so.

Pepys lived and wrote at a time of exceptional change and innovation in the arts, and was something of a conservative at heart; by no means all such novelties as the Arca Musarithmica met with his approval. He was, for example, initially scathing of the guitar, as opposed to the lute or viol. Visiting the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 8th May 1663, the day after it had opened, Pepys noted how its innovative orchestra pit meant that “the musique being below, and most of it sounding under the very stage, there is no hearing of the bases at all, nor very well of the trebles, which sure must be mended.” Nicholas Lanier, the first man ever to hold the title ‘Master of the King’s Musick’ was a friend, as you might expect, as were a number of other notable musicians of the day, and Pepys was well aware of the friction between the older style of English music and the newer French style, favoured by the newly restored King Charles II. (The same kind of genteel battle was going on between the English fashion for dining, with all the dishes on the table at once, and the more Continental practise of one course succeeding another. Pepys’s wife Elizabeth was French – one wonders which system triumphed when they dined at home?) The Diary records how a night out in August 1661, at a tavern next to the Savoy, had ended very badly when the virtuoso Humphrey Madge took exception to the views of one Monsieur d’Esquier “discoursing of musique … so much against the English and in praise of the French that made him mad,” and Madge had left in a huff.

But by 1661 English music had a lot of ground to make up. The cultural black hole of the Protectorate stood between Pepys’s childhood and his manhood. He had been born in 1631, in in the shadow of the old St Pauls and right next door to St Bride’s church, so the music of the Anglican liturgy might have run through his youth. But when Pepys was 9, in 1642, church music in London ceased to be, by order of Parliament. Public music-making such as Morris dancing was also forbidden, and London’s theatres were dark – a state of affairs with which we are more familiar now than we might ever have supposed possible before 2020. So the music Pepys grew up with was either domestic (his father, John, a tailor, owned a pair of virginals), or it would have been the traditional melodies of London’s streets: the whistled songs of tradesmen going about their business, the cries of the street-sellers plying their wares door to door, joined perhaps by the ranting of the gloriously named ‘PraiseGod Barebones’, a Parliamentarian militant, yelling his disapproval of everything from his spot close by the Pepyses’ own front door.

We might intuit that Samuel retained his fondness for these songs and this music of the everyday from the fact that he had over 1700 ballads and ditties in that carefully curated library, many of them purchased from the publisher John Playford, a Fleet Street neighbour. Music was how he began his days, practising popular songs in his study before he went to work – “Up betimes and to my vyall [viol] and song book a pretty while,” is how he starts a typical day in April 1663. We can imagine him singing as he was rowed up and down the Thames on his business for the Navy Board; or trying out harmonies under his breath as he bustled back and forth across London, much as a writer will take a promising passage for a walk, working it back and forth, and if Pepys had a passion to rival his love of music, it was words. ‘Musique’ was how many of his days concluded, too, with a supper-time impromptu in a tavern, or in fine weather with friends ‘on the leads’, that is on the rooftop of his house in Seething Lane. “So home Sir William and I,” begins his account of one of the first such merry evenings in June 1661, with his patron Sir William Penn, “it being very hot weather I took my flageolette and played upon the leads in the garden….. and there we staid talking and singing, and drinking great drafts of claret, and eating botargo [a sort of 17th-century taramasalata] and bread and butter till 12 at night, it being moonshine; and so to bed, very near fuddled.” Music, a warm night, moonlight, food, friends and wine – what could be better than that?

The companionship that music brings was another reason for Pepys, that most clubbable of men, to treasure it. “Most excellent company with Mr. Hill and discourse of musique,” he writes in September 1665, as the entire country boiled and bubbled with plague and the war with the Dutch threatened to bankrupt the City. (The same Mr Thomas Hill, a London merchant, would later introduce Pepys to the musician Cesare Morelli, who would become an essential member of his household in the 1670s). It was the mark of a gentleman to be able to discourse upon music; it was the mark of a gentleman’s wife to be able to play and hold a tune, and at his behest Pepys’s wife, Elizabeth, put in many hours’ practise at her keyboard or with her singing-master. She sounds to have been a far more confident dancer than her husband (Pepys was consequently ferociously jealous of her dancing-master, even though he himself had hired the man), but you get the strong impression from the Diary that Elizabeth’s feel for music, and its role in her life, was much below her husband’s.

Pepys loved to sing, and loved to listen to a fine voice singing; his admiration for the actress Mrs Knepp, which frequently raised Elizabeth’s jealousy in turn, was as much about Knepp’s fine singing voice as it was about her feistiness and her person. “Here the best company for musique I ever was in, in my life,” he writes in December 1665, “and wish I could live and die in it, both for musique and the face of Mrs. Pierce, and my wife and Knipp [sic], who is pretty enough; but the most excellent, mad-humoured thing, and sings the noblest that ever I heard in my life.” To hear Knepp sing his own composition (laboured over for months), a setting of ‘Beauty Retire’ from William Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes – perhaps the first English opera – was one of the highlights of their relationship.

There were not many times when Pepys could claim innocence in his dealings with other women, as he was fully aware, but when Elizabeth upbraided him for the hours he spent with Mary Mercer, Elizabeth’s own paid companion, “teaching her to sing and could never take the pains with her [i.e., with Elizabeth herself]”, he could for once answer quite truthfully, “It is because that the girl do take musique mighty readily, and she do not, and musique is the thing of the world that I love most.” For Samuel Pepys, ‘Musique’ as a mistress, trumped them all.

walking-pepyss-london-web-copy-768x1176-1Jacky Colliss Harvey’s Walking Pepys’s London is published by Haus Publishing (£12.99, Hardback)


There is a very useful virtual exhibition, to be found here, with illustrates Pepys’s Arca Musarithmica and includes a brief excerpt from ‘Beauty Retire’

And for a deeper dive, this excellent documentary, from Radio 4, first broadcast in 2017


Jacky Colliss Harvey is a writer and editor. She has eight_col_jacky_colliss_harveyworked in museum publishing for the past 20 years and is a commentator and reviewer who speaks in both the UK and abroad on the arts and their relation to popular culture. She is the author of the bestseller RED: A History of the Redhead and most recently The Animal’s Companion.

She is a reviewer for ArtMuseLondon, a sister site to The Cross-Eyed pianist

Find Jacky on Twitter @JCollissHarvey

Image credit:

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666. Pepys is holding ‘Beauty Retire’, in his setting, as he looks at us.

NPG 211 © National Portrait Gallery, London