Was Boyce a Mason?

By Bartlett, Ian | Musical Times, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Was Boyce a Mason?


Bartlett, Ian, Musical Times


William boyce (1711- 79) happened to be born into an age of transition in the development of Freemasonry in Great Britain. From its origins in the medieval craft guilds, signs of an evolution from an earlier 'operative Freemasonry' towards a modern 'speculative' form of Freemasonry had begun to appear in the mid-i7th century. In 1717 a number of previously independent lodges in London had amalgamated to create a 'Grand Lodge of England'. The nature of the new craft was formalised with the publication in 1723 of James Anderson's Book of constitutions. It is clear that music already played a role of some significance in certain Masonic ceremonies, since four song texts were included in this volume, three of them being printed with their musical settings. It has been estimated that by 1760 at least 100 published Masonic songs were available for use in lodge meetings. Music apparendy played a particularly prominent role at the Lodge of Honorary Free-Masons which met at the Prince of Oranges Head in Germain Street, London. Another lodge, the PhiloMusicae et Architeturae Societas, which met at the Queen's Head Tavern from 1725 to 1727 under the direction of Francesco Geminiani, a prominent violinist and composer in London at that time, seems to have been as much a music club as it was a Masonic lodge. It is apparent then that if Boyce had any inclination to do so, he could in due course have sought to join a suitable lodge where his musical accomplishments would have been welcome.

It is apposite to consider now the extent to which readers interested in exploring the history of Masonry and its music, or the biography of Boyce, may on the one hand be enlightened, or on the other misled, by consulting the two major international dictionaries of music. In the first edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, for example, in the course of an entry on 'Freemasonry in England', it is claimed that 'Boyce was likewise a prominent Freemason, who composed a Freemason's song still sung today "No sect in the world can with Masons compare".' ('Boyce war gleichfalls prominenter Freimaurer, er komp. ein noch heute gesungenes Freimauerlied.") In the second edition of MGG this information is amplified in an article on 'Freemason's music': 'Original melodies were written by a number of English composers for lodge songs. In 1795 Richard Gaudry published "A Collection of Masonic Songs". Among these was for instance one by W Boyce, "No sect in the world can with Masons compare", which has been preserved to this day'. ('Originalweisen zu Logenlieder schreiben zahlreiche englischer Komponisten. 1795 publizierte Richard Gaudry "A Collection of Masonic Songs". Lebendig erhalten haben sich bis halte u.a. von W. Boyce "No sect in the world can with Masons compare".'2)

Even at this early stage in our enquiry, however, the innocent reader will have been led astray. The song in question does not appear at all in Gaudry's publication of 1795,3 Dut seems to have been published first in another Collection of Masonic songs (Falmouth, 1809).4 None of the melodies to be used are printed in musical notation in this volume, but they are clearly identified in the heading to each song. The words of 'No sect in the world' are to be sung to the tune of Boyce 's popular, jingoistic song 'Heart of oak' of 1759, with words by David Garrick, which was still well-known in late- 19th-century Britain and, indeed, was adopted as a 'national song'. This piece was later published again in Manchester c.1860 in a collection of Masonic songs arranged with piano accompaniment by Bro. R. Andrews in which the author of the text is identified as 'Bro. J. R. Booth'.5

A further reference to Boyce 's supposed Masonic credentials occurs in the second edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart in the biographical entry on the composer.6 This article is of particular significance for it was provided by an English musicologist. In the course of a commentary on Boyce 's two pastoral 'Entertainments', The chaplet (1749) an^ The shepherd's lottery (1751), we are informed that 'The librettos of both pieces were written by Moses Méndez, a rich Jewish stockbroker and writer, who was not only a personal friend of the composer, but like Boyce, was undoubtedly a Freemason'. …

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