John and Robert Johnson

John Johnson, an English lutenist and composer, was probably born at the end of the 1580s and flourished between 1579 (when he was appointed to the Queen’s Musick in the court of Elizabeth) and his death in 1594. His compositions are found in both English and continental sources, indicating that his music was very popular. Stylistically his music shows both English and Italian influences and is characteristic of the earlier part of the English golden age.


Robert Johnson (1583 - 1633) was John Johnson’s son and followed him as both a lutenist and composer and as the monarch’s lutenist as he became a lutenist to King James I in 1604 and held this post until his death. He also served the royal princes Henry and Charles and had a wide range of other activities, suggesting that he was a particularly successful musician. His work included writing music for theatrical productions (instrumental music and songs for London theatre productions of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and others) and for courtly masques (a form of entertainment that included poetry, music and visual spectacle and was, arguably, one of the predecessors of opera). It seems that not much of his theatrical music survives (though possibly some is to be found among the compositions of ‘anon’) though some of his songs are still performed - eg Have you seen the Bright Lily Grow, Care-charming sleep, Hark, Hark the Lark and Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest', Full Fathom Five. (Beware, if you search for Robert Johnson in music streaming apps, unless you add ‘ ute' you will only get the work of the Delta blues man!)

Johnson’s surviving solo lute music is found in some of the later manuscript sources and seems to be largely from the period 1600–15. These pieces are mostly written for 9 or 10 course lutes and his style was perhaps continued and developed by the lesser-known lutenists Cuthbert Hely and John Wilson after 1625. These three were among the last English lute composers to make use of what was referred to as 'viel ton' (renaissance tuning) before the adoption of new lute tunings in England during the 1630s (now referred to as transitional and baroque tunings).

Almayne [PDF] [MIDI] [XML] Johnson R Grade 07
This almayne is found in the Margaret Board Lute Book

More to follow...



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