April 2018: Music & Song at the Middle Temple

Music, while not always the first string to a barrister's bow, has long been a part of life at the Inn - Middle Templars' study, practice and interaction has gone hand in hand with a rich musical tradition for centuries. However, music has not always brought harmony to the Inn or its members - here we look at some of the high notes and points of discord in the history of music at the Middle Temple.

The Inn of the early centuries certainly appears to have been a musical place. Fortescue relates that the curriculum studied by young Middle Templars did not include only the law, but also history, as well as 'the lighter accomplishments of singing, dancing and all kinds of music'. Early records bear out this impression of a musical Inn. Many receipts, for example, survive for payments made to musicians for their services here, including from the celebrated lutenist and composer John Dowland, whose work is still much performed today. This receipt, signed by Dowland, 'Lutenist to the King's Ma[jes]tie', is for £5 received for 'the consorte p[er]formed before the judges and Reverend benchers' at Candlemas 1612/13.

Receipt signed by John Dowland for £5 received for music performed at Candlemas 1612/13 (MT.7/GDE/3)

However, tastes changed as England became more puritanical, and the governance of the Inn began to follow the trend. The Minutes of Parliament record that, after Christmas 1631, several members were fined for forming their own Parliament over the festive season, and passing an order 'to drink healths in Hall with loud music', against an earlier order of the Bench. On 25 November 1642, the Bench ordered that Christmas be kept 'w[i]thout any Musicke, Gaming or any publique noise or shewe... in respect of the Danger & troublesomnes of the times'. The English Civil War had, of course, broken out just three months earlier.

Minutes of Parliament, 25 November 1642 (MT.1/MPA/5)

The national mood had changed a little by 1665, following the Restoration of King Charles II, and owing to the good behaviour of the Middle Templars over Christmas, Parliament voted to allow them £6 12s for 'music and torches'.

The strong musical tradition at the Temple Church was, as now, never far away for Middle Templars, and the rich history of the church's choir and organ will deservedly be covered in a future edition of Archive of the Month. The archive holds a number of beautiful volumes of church music from the choir's collection, including a 1716 edition of the 1693 Harmonia Sacra: or, Divine Hymns and Dialogues.

Title page of 'Harmonia Sacra', 1716 (MT.15/MUS/2)

The organ at Temple Church, in its several incarnations, has long been the centre of comment, discussion, intrigue and controversy, not least for the saga known as 'The Battle of the Organs' in the 1680s, when both Temple Inns (somewhat stubbornly) installed an organ in the Church built by their preferred master craftsman. Not much later, the new organist Mr Piggott was chastised by the Benchers for negligence of his duties - he had been 'placing boys and other unskilled persons to play the organ in his place'.

Music continued to cause controversy in the following century. In 1758, a complaint was made to Parliament by one Edmund Jenings, a barrister of the Inn. His downstairs neighbour, a certain Mr Arne, a 'common musician for hire', was 'making an incessant noise either instrumental or vocal and sometimes both', making it impossible for Jenings to 'pursue his studies under such circumstances'. He called upon the Bench for redress. Arne was summoned to Parliament, but failed to appear; his chamber was seized from him. It is very tempting to surmise that this Mr Arne was, in fact, Thomas Augustine Arne, the composer of Rule Britannia and God Save the King.