ADSON, John.

ADSON, John. Courtly Masquing Ayres

London, T.S[nodham] for John Browne, 1621.


FIRST EDITION. Small 4to, pp. [16]. Some Roman and little Italic letter, letterpress diamond head musical notation for 30 dances, numbered 1-20 for 5, then 1-10 for 6 parts. Title framed in elaborate Roman arch covered in ivy, flanked by mythical creatures, motto ‘NON VI SED VIRTUTIS’ in roundel containing animal battle scene, t-p a little soiled, small repair to blank lower outer corner. Age yellowing, fore-edge uncut and a little frayed, light foxing. A good, well-margined copy in modern half-calf, marbled boards, gilt title to spine within gilt rules.

Very rare copy of this wonderful collection of airs to accompany masquing dances for brass instruments, specifically cornets and sackbuts, a precursor to the modern trombone, in 5- and 6-part compositions. Masques were a form of courtly entertainment popular in the 16 th and 17 th centuries, ceasing in England during the Civil Wars. Like a ball, it involved music, dancing, singing and acting, often with disguises and a customary complimentary offering to the patron. Performers themselves would have also been disguised and often of the same sex, arriving together with torchbearers on an elaborately set stage, reflected in the sumptuous and dramatic classically inspired arch framing the title of the work. These events reached their height under the Stuarts, with renowned architects often being involved in the architectural set design, such as Inigo Jones.

The composer, John Adson (c.1587-1640), was initially a cornett player in the service of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, before moving to London and joining the City Waits, an early music ensemble, which he remained a part of until his death and was also associated with the King’s Company. Besides this work, only four other pieces are attributed to him, the Courtly Masquing Ayres being his best-known work. It opens with a dedication to George Villiers (1592-1628), Marquess of Buckingham, a renowned patron of the arts and favourite of King James I. He commissioned masques where he played a leading role, perhaps as a means of political and courtly advancement, possibly performing to the very music in this work, as he was known to have appeared as a dancer.

Only 3 copies recorded in US at Brown, Case Western Reserve and Purdue. ESTC: S115265, Grove: pp.61, A Biographical Dictionary of English Court Musicians: pp.8-9
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