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Henry Hall of Hereford, Poet and Musician


Henry Hall (c. 1656-1707) was organist of Hereford Cathedral, an admired composer of church music, and a prolific poet and songwriter. In 1994 I published an essay in The Library entitled ‘Henry Hall of Hereford’s Poetical Tributes to Henry Purcell‘ (Hall and Purcell has been fellow-choristers at the Chapel Royal) and I subsequently wrote an account of his life for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This drew attention to, among other things, his unrepentant Jacobitism. Many of his poems of the 1690s vilify William III and Mary, and his drinking songs, from his base in Hereford, call for the return of James II. After the accession of Queen Anne his links with London appear to have strengthened, and he began writing fulsomely in praise of the new monarch.

My intention had always been to publish a detailed study of Hall’s poetic output (which amounts to at least 140 items) and I have now resumed work, building on a concentrated period of research in the early 2000s. Starting with descriptions of the major manuscript collections and of Hall’s own autographs, I am tracing the distribution of his poems and songs in other manuscripts of the time and in printed collections. Particular questions relate to problems of correct attribution, including: Did Hall necessarily compose the words of all the songs to which he wrote the music? Was he in fact responsible for all the widely-circulated political satires ascribed to him in the main manuscript collections? Was a fellow-poet justified in saying that Hall passed off other people’s work as his own?

One difficulty in arriving at correct answers to these questions is Hall’s undoubted versatility as a poet, able to operate across different genres and styles. But he is at his liveliest and most characteristic when writing irreverent satires, especially against political opponents, and I am planning to include an edition of an important group of verse epistles, addressed to like-minded friends in Hereford.

From → English poetry

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