Thomas Morley

Thomas Morley

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Thomas Morley was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

, theorist
Music theory
Music theory is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identify patterns and structures in composers' techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods...

, editor and organist
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

 of the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

, and the foremost member of the English Madrigal School
English Madrigal School
The English Madrigal School was the brief but intense flowering of the musical madrigal in England, mostly from 1588 to 1627, along with the composers who produced them. The English madrigals were a cappella, predominantly light in style, and generally began as either copies or direct translations...

. He was the most famous composer of secular music in Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 England and an organist at St Paul's Cathedral. He and Robert Johnson are the composers of the only surviving contemporary settings of verse by Shakespeare.


Morley was born in Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

, in East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

, the son of a brewer. Most likely he was a singer in the local cathedral
Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral is a cathedral located in Norwich, Norfolk, dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Formerly a Catholic church, it has belonged to the Church of England since the English Reformation....

 from his boyhood, and he became master of choristers
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus...

 there in 1583. However, Morley evidently spent some time away from East Anglia, for he later referred to the great Elizabethan composer of sacred music, William Byrd
William Byrd
William Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.-Provenance:Knowledge of Byrd's biography expanded in the late 20th century, thanks largely...

, as his teacher; while the dates he studied with Byrd are not known, they were most likely in the early 1570s. In 1588 he received his bachelor's degree from Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, and shortly thereafter was employed as organist at St. Paul's in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. His young son died the following year in 1589.

In 1588 Nicholas Yonge
Nicholas Yonge
Nicholas Yonge was an English singer and publisher. He is most famous for publishing the Musica transalpina , a collection of Italian madrigals with their words translated into English...

 published his Musica transalpina, the collection of Italian madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

s fitted with English texts, which touched off the explosive and colorful vogue for madrigal composition in England. Morley evidently found his compositional direction at this time, and shortly afterwards began publishing his own collections of madrigals (11 in all).

Morley lived for a time in the same parish as Shakespeare, and a connection between the two has been long speculated, though never proven. His famous setting of "It was a lover and his lass" from As You Like It
As You Like It
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility...

has never been established as having been used in a performance of Shakespeare's play, though the possibility that it was is obvious. Morley was highly placed by the mid-1590s and would have had easy access to the theatrical community; certainly there was then, as there is now, a close connection between prominent actors and musicians.

While Morley attempted to imitate the spirit of Byrd in some of his early sacred works, it was in the form of the madrigal that he made his principal contribution to music history. His work in the genre has remained in the repertory to the present day, and shows a wider variety of emotional color, form and technique than anything by other composers of the period. Usually his madrigals are light, quick-moving and easily singable, like his well-known "Now is the Month of Maying
Now Is the Month of Maying
Now is the month of maying is one of the most famous of the English Balletts, by Thomas Morley published in 1595. It is based on a text used by Orazio Vecchi in 1590....

" (which is actually a ballett); he took the aspects of Italian style that suited his personality and anglicised them. Other composers of the English Madrigal School, for instance Thomas Weelkes
Thomas Weelkes
Thomas Weelkes was an English composer and organist. He became organist of Winchester College in 1598, moving to Chichester Cathedral. His works are chiefly vocal, and include madrigals, anthems and services.-Life:Weelkes was baptised in the little village church of Elsted in Sussex on 25...

 and John Wilbye
John Wilbye
John Wilbye , was an English madrigal composer. The son of a tanner, he was born at Brome, Suffolk, near Diss, and received the patronage of the Cornwallis family. It is thought that he accompanied Elizabeth Cornwallis to Hengrave Hall near Bury St...

, were to write madrigals in a more serious or sombre vein.

In addition to his madrigals, Morley wrote instrumental music, including keyboard music (some of which has been preserved in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is a primary source of keyboard music from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods in England, i.e., the late Renaissance and very early Baroque. It takes its name from Viscount Fitzwilliam who bequeathed this manuscript collection to Cambridge University in 1816...

), and music for the broken consort
Broken consort
A broken consort in English early Baroque musical terminology refers to ensembles featuring instruments from more than one family, for example a group featuring both string and wind instruments...

, a uniquely English ensemble of two viol
The viol is any one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed musical instruments developed in the mid-late 15th century and used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The family is related to and descends primarily from the Renaissance vihuela, a plucked instrument that preceded the...

s, flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

, lute
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....

, cittern
The cittern or cither is a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance. Modern scholars debate its exact history, but it is generally accepted that it is descended from the Medieval Citole, or Cytole. It looks much like the modern-day flat-back mandolin and the modern Irish bouzouki and cittern...

 and bandora, notably as published by William Barley
William Barley
William Barley was an English bookseller and publisher. He completed an apprenticeship as a draper in 1587, but was soon working in the London book trade. As a freeman of the Drapers' Company, he was embroiled in a dispute between it and the Stationers' Company over the rights of drapers to...

 in 1599 in The First Booke of Consort Lessons, made by diuers exquisite Authors, for six Instruments to play together, the Treble Lute, the Bandora, the Cittern, the Base-Violl, the Flute & Treble-Violl.

Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (published 1597) remained popular for almost two hundred years after its author's death, and remains an important reference for information about sixteenth century composition and performance.


Thomas Morley's compositions include (in alphabetical order):
  • April is in my mistress' face
    April is in my mistress' face
    April is in my mistress' face written by Thomas Morley is one of the best-known and shortest of English madrigals; it was published in 1594, and appears to be based on an Italian text by Livio Celiano, set by Orazio Vecchi in 1587....

  • Arise, get up my deere,
  • Cease mine eyes
  • Crewell you pull away to soone
  • Doe you not know?
  • Fantasie: Il Doloroso
  • Fantasie: Il Grillo
  • Fantasie: Il Lamento
  • Fantasie: La Caccia
  • Fantasie: La Rondinella
  • Fantasie: La Sampogna
  • Fantasie: La Sirena
  • Fantasie: La Tortorella
  • Fire Fire My Heart
  • Flora wilt thou torment mee
  • Fyre and Lightning
  • Goe yee my canzonets
  • Good Morrow, Fair Ladies of the May
  • Harke Alleluia!
  • Hould out my hart
  • I goe before my darling
  • I should for griefe and anguish
  • In nets of golden wyers
  • It was a lover and his lass
  • Joy, joy doth so arise
  • Joyne hands
  • La Girandola
  • Ladie, those eies
  • Lady if I through griefe
  • Leave now mine eyes
  • Lo heere another love
  • Love learns by laughing
  • Miraculous loves wounding
  • My bonny lass she smileth
    My bonny lass she smileth
    My bonny lass she smileth is a famous English madrigal, written by Thomas Morley and published in 1595. It is based on an Italian madrigal, published by Gastoldi in 1591 . The ChoralWiki gives the following words for the two opening verses.My bonny lass she smileth is a famous English madrigal,...

  • Nolo mortem peccatoris
  • Now is the month of maying
    Now Is the Month of Maying
    Now is the month of maying is one of the most famous of the English Balletts, by Thomas Morley published in 1595. It is based on a text used by Orazio Vecchi in 1590....

  • O thou that art so cruell
  • Say deere, will you not have mee?
  • See, see, myne own sweet jewel
  • Shepard's Rejoice
  • Sing we and chant it
  • Sweet nymph
  • 'Tis the time of Yuletide Glee
  • VI. God morrow, Fayre Ladies, (down a fourth)
  • What ayles my darling?
  • When loe by break of morning
  • Where art thou wanton?

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