Samuel Pepys is best known for his diary writing. But thanks to an Oxford University music DPhil student, we now know a lot more about the music he commissioned.
Dionysios Kyropoulos of Oxford's Faculty of Music came up with the idea for a documentary, which aired on BBC Radio 4 earlier today. It can be heard in full here.
The idea came to him as he read through Pepys' musical manuscripts in a library in Cambridge. The music had been commissioned by Pepys, and written by the composer Cesare Morelli.
Dionysios explains: ‘Best known for his diary which documents some of the most turbulent and important years of British history, Samuel Pepys also kept a library—and life—full of music. Indeed, as the man said himself, ‘musique is the thing in life I love the most’.
'When studying for my master’s in Cambridge, I got in touch with the Pepys librarian at Magdalene College and requested to see Pepys’ musical manuscripts. Nothing prepared me for the surprises in store.
‘Being myself a bass singer and an amateur lutenist I was delighted to stumble across an enormous collection of songs written by the little-known composer Cesare Morelli for bass voice and Baroque guitar in lute tablature. Most of them were never before published, recorded or performed. Without delay I decided to explore them further, sing them through, pick my favourite ones, and publish an anthology to allow more people to share my excitement.
‘Researching for this edition revealed many gripping tales from Pepys’ lesser-known post-diary period, the madness of the Popish plot, and amusing stories from the musical life of the court of the Merry Monarch.’
Dionysios realised these stories would be likely to interest a much wider public, so he pitched the idea to Overtone Productions, which is a production company that has run ‘pitching competitions’ with the Humanities Division at Oxford University.
‘From our first meeting they instantly shared my excitement for the project and with their expert advice helped me craft a bid for Radio 4,’ he says. ‘After countless drafts were floated forward and back, the proposal was ready, and following a long nail-biting wait we finally got a positive response from the BBC!
‘The acceptance of our bid kick-started a long period during which we planned the outline and specifics of the documentary, invited specialists to be interviewed, arranged dates and venues for recordings, and put together a live concert of Morelli’s music.’
Dionysios put on a concert of Morelli's works, which included compositions which had not been heard since they were played and sung by Pepys himself more than 300 years ago.
This concert provides the musical backdrop to the documentary.