The Monthly Mask is a fascinating series of 360 songs, of immensely varied interest, showing what the public bought month by month as songs to sing, play and teach.
It ran from November 1702 to September 1711, and offered the 'newest Songs', with theatre songs often appearing within a week of their premieres.
Political events were also quickly reflected. The Monthly Mask is an important resource for scholars of the musical, theatrical, political and social life of the early 18th century. There are songs by nearly 50 composers, including all the leading English figures between Purcell and Handel. One Purcell song is published for the first time and there are many songs not to be found elsewhere. Besides the theatres, there is music for the court, York Buildings, Stationers' Hall, Richmond Wells and May Fair, as well as for banquets for the Post Office and the Ordnance Board. The Monthly Mask covers the chief part of Queen Anne's reign and the triumphs and fall of the Duke of Marlborough. There are songs in celebration of all of Marlborough's victories, toasts to England's allies and satires mocking the French king and the Pretender. The appeal of the periodical to theatre historians is considerable. It not only gives details of songs and their singers for many plays, but also reflects the changes in the use of music in the theatre during this period. The emergence of female star singers, the advent of all-sung operas, the enormous success of the first English opera in the Italian style (Arsinoe), the marginalisation of incidental music in plays after the formation of the opera company, and the triumph of Italian opera are all clearly traceable. This complete facsimile is exceptionally useful for librarians and sellers of antiquarian music, not only for correctly dating any single monthly issues but, more importantly, for attributing dates to a huge number of otherwise undateable single songsheets run off from the Monthly Mask plates.