340J   Christopher Simpson.  (1602/4-1669 or 1674 see below)

A Compendium of Practical Music in five parts Teaching, by a new, and easie method,Teaching, by a new, and easie method, 1. The rudiments of song. 2. The principles of composition. 3. The use of discords. 4. The form of figurate descant. 5. The contrivance of canon. Together with lessons for viols, &c. The third edition.

London : printed by M.C. for Henry Brome, at the Gun near the west-end of St. Pauls, MDCLXXVIII. [1678]                                                                                SOLD


Octavo A- N8 {192p} 7 X 4 ¼ inches.  With frontis. portrait (A1v) of the author signed: W. Faithorne dil: et sculp:. The stated Third edition, the first was published under the title The Principles of Practical Musick (London, 1665), which became the Compendium of Practical Musick (London, 1667). This is a very clean copy And is bound in modern quarter calf.

A Roman Catholic, he fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War (1643–44) and subsequently became tutor to the son of a prominent Catholic, Sir Robert Bolles. During his life Simpson was highly regarded as a musician. As a composer, chiefly of solo and ensemble works for viol, he is noteworthy for his exploitation of the instrument’s resources and his development of variation form. His influential theoretical works were The Division-violist (1st ed., 1659; modern ed., 1955, reprinted 1998), discussing viol technique and the improvisation of descants and divisions (variations on a ground); and The Principles of Practical Musick (1665; modern ed., 1970), praised for its excellence by Henry Purcell and other contemporary composers.

The  Compendium of Practical Musick. Simpson’s instrumental works are all for viol, with or without other instruments, and vary in difficulty.

Simpson was born between 1602 and 1606, probably at Egton, Yorkshire. He was the eldest son of Christopher Sympson, a Yorkshireman, who is usually described as a cordwainer but who was also the manager of a theatre company patronised by wealthy Yorkshire Catholics.  There is a theory (put forward by Urquhart) that Christopher Simpson (junior), the musician, could have been the same Simpson (or Sampson) who IMG_2216was educated as a Jesuit in continental Europe and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1629. However, Simpson’s death in 1669 is at odds with the evidence that the Jesuit Simpson lived until 1674.

After the war,Simpson remained in the Bolles’ household (either in Lincolnshire, or their house in London) for the remainder of his life. His will was made on 5 May 1669 and was proved in London on 29 July 1669. It seems likely that he died at Sir John Bolles’ house in Holborn, London, or possibly at Scampton Hall.

Simpson made a small contribution to John Playford’s work A Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick but is best known for his own book, The Division Viol, or the Art of Playing upon a Ground (published 1659) which is described in the lengthy title.  The second edition (published in 1665) is a parallel text in English and Latin, thus addressing both the British and continental European markets. It was a highly successful publication and continued to appear in new editions for sixty years after the death of its author. With the revival of early music during the 20th century, and renewed interest in the viol, Simpson’s book was read with renewed interest by those who sought to rediscover the “authentic” technique for playing the instrument.


The accompanying portrait of Simpson appears in The Division Viol. In the first edition, he is depicted wearing a hat but, in later editions, the picture has been modified to show him bare-headed, as here. IMG_2219



Very few of Simpson’s musical compositions appeared in print during his lifetime, except those included as examples in his books. Some of his compositions survive in manuscript form. For example, he composed two sets of fantasias entitled The Monthes and The Seasons, which both consist of one treble and two bass viol parts, with continuo. The Seasons was recorded by Hille Perl (as one of the Sirius Viols) in 2016, with extensive liner notes about the piece.

All his surviving instrumental works are for viol ensembles or for the solo viol, an instrument IMG_2210about which he wrote that “a viol in the hands of an excellent violist may (no doubt) be reckon’d amongst the best of musical instruments. To play extempore to a ground is the highest perfection of it”.

Wing (CD-ROM, 1996), S3811; Krummel. p.125


Christopher Simpson: The Division-Violist: or An Introduction to the Playing upon a Ground, printed by William Godbid, and sold by John Playford, Facsimile reprint edited with introduction by Nathalie Dolmetsch, London: J. Curwen, 1955

Percy Scholes: Oxford Companion to Music, OUP

Margaret Urquhart: Chelys Volume 21 “Was Christopher Simpson a Jesuit?”, 1992, Viola da Gamba Society Publications

  1. C. G. Matthews and Brian Harrison (editors): The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-861366-0