This article explores and contextualizes the thought of the religious author Richard Roach (1662–1730) from a musical perspective. Roach, a member of the Behmenist, millenarian Philadelphian Society in London at the turn of the eighteenth century, published little that relates directly to the subject of music, and has thus gone virtually unrecognized in this context. Nevertheless, in his more substantial religious oeuvre music emerges as a crucial component of his thought. In addition, his manuscript diaries and papers reveal their author’s interaction with some of Augustan London’s leading musical figures, and his participation in a previously unknown weekly musical meeting.
After reviewing the overall circumstances of Roach’s life and cultural milieu, the article outlines what can at present be established about his musical activities. As I demonstrate, evidence from the diaries clarifies the provenance of an early hymn collection, while other extant sources reveal an unsuspected connection between religious ‘enthusiasm’ and the reception in London of Italian opera. The integral place of music in Roach’s worldview is then related to aspects of his thought ranging from ‘spiritual gender’, eschatology and the Divine Magia to science and politics. Beyond this timely focus on a neglected individual, however, I draw attention to the continuing tendency to overlook contexts such as this one, in which music is a potentially important but not an obviously paramount ingredient. I suggest that conventional conceptions of an emerging ‘public sphere’ – secular, enlightened, rational – need to be modified to take account of supposedly marginalized, ‘enthusiastic’ religious groups such as the Philadelphians. Finally, the absorption of developing musical genres into the background of an age-old model of universal harmony is taken as an instance of the powerful historical interplay between change and continuity.