My recent belated discovery of the wonders of Purcell also opened my ears to the beauty of viol music, with its sweet softness of tone. By chance I recently came across a piece by one John Jenkins, who was, I learnt, the supreme composer of his time for viol consorts (and a fine player himself). His time was very long - in effect from Byrd to Purcell, unfortunately including the Civil War and Commonwealth - and, to judge from his Wikipedia entry, he seems to have been as amiable and well-liked as he was talented. Intriguingly, he was in his later years a friend of Sir Thomas Browne's (though sadly he does not figure in my edition of Browne's letters). The author of Jenkins' Wikipedia entry clams that his music is the closest thing to 'an aural representation of the sensibility of this physician-philosopher'. I'm not sure how true that is, but I have certainly enjoyed listening to a CD of Jenkins's works for viol consorts. Here is the remarkable - and untypically programmatic - Newark Seidge, which, with only viols and a chamber organ, portrays the alarums and excursions of battle, the celebration of victory and the mourning for the dead as Prince Rupert relieved Newark in 1644.
It is pleasing to think of Jenkins playing for his friend Browne, who clearly loved music. In Religio Medici Sir Thomas writes:
'Whosoever is harmonically composed delights in harmony; which makes me much distrust the symmetry of those heads which declaim against all Church-Musick. For my self, not only from my obedience, but my particular Genius, I do embrace it: for even that vulgar and Tavern-Musick, which makes one man merry, another mad, strikes in me a deep fit of devotion, and a profound contemplation of the First Composer. There is something in it of divinity more than the ear discovers: it is an Hieroglyphical and shadowed lesson of the whole world, and creatures of GOD; such a melody to the ear, as the whole World, well understood, would afford the understanding. In brief, it is a sensible fit of that harmony which intellectually sounds in the ears of GOD.'