The English Masque – A Lavish Experience

The rise of humanism in Europe and England from the 15th to the 17th centuries meant that humankind abstained from the medieval longing for what may lay beyond and set about reinstating a love of life in the here and now, one formerly cherished by the ancients. Marvellous music united all this virtuoso era produced with great splendour and mechanical ingenuity and it was out of a festive courtly entertainment, the English masque that traditions surrounding the English theatre, opera and ballet evolved. English Architect Inigo Jones (Baptised 1573-1652) was master of decorations and machinery for the masques held at the courts of Elizabeth 1 and her successor James 1. Jones’s collaboration with Ben Jonson, one of the era’s greatest authors was a spectacular success. They produced many masques together, most by royal command and a great deal of fun was had by all.

A diversion of noble amateurs, the masque was a lavish experience of mythological or allegorical subjects that included poetry, voice, instruments, dance, actors, costume pageantry and scenic decoration.  The composers of this period were able at their art, with Campian, Coperario, Lanir, Lawes, Locke and Gibbons among the most notable. Indeed it was out of the English masque the traditions around English opera evolved, be it a very fine line between them.

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