The principles of musik, in singing and setting: vvith the two-fold use therof, ecclesiasticall and civil.

London, printed by Iohn Haviland, for the author, 1636.


4to. pp. [xiv], 135, [i]. [par.]-2[par.]⁴ A-R⁴. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Title within box rule with woodcut of King David with typographical ornaments, woodcut initials, headpieces and typographical ornaments, type set music, several woodcut diagrams in text, one full page. T-p a little dusty particularly at foredge, occasional light dust soiling, very pale water stain to out upper corner of last few leaves. A good copy, crisp and clean, loose in early wrappers, wax spot to upper cover, ink stains to lower, a little worn on spine, a.e.r., in folding half calf case gilt  by Weinstein.

First edition of this rare and most important theoretical work on music, the most influential of the C17th, by the remarkable Charles Butler who was also the author of “The Feminine Monarchy” a seminal work on beekeeping. Book One of ‘The Principles’ concerns itself with the rudiments of music and provides elementary instruction in the art of composition. It is divided under four comprehensive chapter headings, The Moods, Singing, Setting, and the ways of Setting. Chapters two, three and four are broken into sections and sub-sections; the section treating of an individual topic, and sub-section of a particular aspect of that topic. Butler supplies annotations after each section, making the detailed and often lengthy explanations more accessible to the reader.

“As a text it was quite obviously designed to be read at different levels and in different ways, but its principal appeal is to the educated amateur, aiming at the same type of audience as Morley’s ‘Plaine and Easie Introduction’ had sought. The Principles is basically a scholarly book which provides a good deal of sound practical advice. Reading without reference to the Annotations, the diligent amateur must have found a sensible and very sane book, often cutting through an enormous amount of arcane mystery in a deft sentence, while at the same time leaving the reader in no doubt that composers are born not made. The amateur who was something of a scholar could not fail to have been impressed by the precise and accurate documentation of Butler’s annotations, by the masterly command of sources, particularly of the classical and medieval authorities. The professional musician, too, could well have gained immense profit and pleasure from Butler’s text, which does not simply provide rules and regulations but explains the nature and antiquity of his art from Old Testament to modern times. …The number of surviving copies indicates a fairly large edition, perhaps as high as seven or eight hundred copies. Playford’s Sale Catalogues at the British Museum prove that copies were still changing hands at the end of the seventeenth century and a copy was offered for two and a half guineas at a Calkin and Budd Sale in l844, there described as “excessively scarce”, and selling at a higher price than all the English theorists, Morley included. ..’The Principles , of Musik in singing and setting’ is unique in one important aspect: it is the only book which sets out with a two-fold purpose, to instruct the musical reader, and to justify music’s existence. The first part of Butler’ s purpose needs no explanation, nor does it merit defence, but the apology for music stands in need of both. It may have been written as an academic exercise, or even perhaps as a provider of mere bulk to an otherwise slender volume, but it is much more likely to have been written because Butler seriously believed that forces were abroad in society that were determined to stamp out music and not simply from church worship.” John Shute. ‘The English theorists of the seventeenth century’ “Butler argued that the ‘reprehensible conduct of ‘debosht Balad-makers and Dance-makers’ in leading their silly proselytes hedlong into hell’ did not amount to a justification for the silencing of all musical sound. Instead, it argued the need for control.” Christopher Marsh ‘Music and Society in Early Modern England.’

ESTC S106982. STC 1496; Lowndes p. 333: “This tract, dedicated to King Charles I, was the only theoretical or didactic work on the subject of music, published in that king’s reign.”


Print This Item Print This Item