Listening to Music as Both Experience and Evaluation in Late Seventeenth-century Urban England

This project has the mid-seventeenth century as its starting point—a period in which, as a result of a ban on most public performance, music had gained an important position in domestic life and thus in the everyday life of most urban dwellers. This position in the private sphere dramatically expanded outwards into public life with the reintroduction of the monarchy and the connected resumption of performance culture starting in 1660. The commercialization of music through, for example, music print and the introduction of concerts offered increasing numbers of enthusiastic listeners access to music and its performance.

A large number of for the most part short reports regarding music listening experience have been preserved from this period—their existence a reflection of increasing middle class literacy and emancipation, together with a pronounced need on the part of scattered individuals to document their lives in some sort of written form. With this as a basis, in this project I will empirically assess reports from the diaries of Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, and Anthony Wood, using qualitative analysis of the contents of these texts. As a point of comparison, I will also look closely at prefaces and directions in compilations published by John Playford, within which I can identify normative criteria for the tasks, skills, and behavior of listeners. Which aspects of the listening experience made their way onto paper, what significance for music listening emerges through an identification of features such as entry length, frequency, and configuration—these and additional questions will be explored in this project. The aim is to uncover linguistic conventions and trace the development of  aesthetic categories in the period when musical experiences were taking written form, thus contributing to knowledge about seventeenth century music listening.

In this way the project will be tied to research on the history of music listening, which, however, often focuses first and foremost on the classical concert hall,  thus only beginning with the eighteenth century. To date, the seventeenth century remains underrepresented in scholarly research.


Wiesecke, J. (2017). Samuel Pepys and his experiences of music at Restoration theatres. In H. Barlow, & D. Rowland (Eds.), Listening to music: People, practices and experiences. Retrieved from