Investigating 18th Century Musical Culture Through Legal Documents

A systematic search of equity and common law court records underpins the project, which is yielding a wealth of new information concerning professional music culture in England during the long eighteenth century.

Research by Dr Cheryll Duncan demonstrates the importance of legal documents to historical musicology. Legal documents have been virtually untouched by music historians because of the many challenges that they pose, and a central objective of the research is to make the methodological processes more transparent, thereby facilitating access to this rich resource.


Findings to date shed light on the professional and personal lives of iconic figures such as Henry Purcell through to more minor players like Giuseppe Manfredini and Elizabeth Frederica. The lawsuits provide fresh insights into diverse matters including contracts, salaries, debt, consumption, patronage, benefit arrangements, operatic management, concert administration and publishing.

Cheryll’s findings have been published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Early Music, The Opera Journal, Cambridge Opera Journal, the Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland and the Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle. She contributed to Geminiani Studies, a collection of essays edited by Christopher Hogwood (Ut Orpheus, 2013), and is currently working on a monograph concerning the violinist and composer Felice Giardini and his business relationships.

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