More detailed biographies of some of the musicians mentioned on other pages as composers of the music. (See References page for sources).
Hugh Aston (c1485 - 1558) was an English composer who graduated Bachelor of Music at Oxford in 1510 and worked as master of the choristers at St Mary Newarke College, Leicester from 1525-1548. He wrote choral music and is probably author of three (for the time) innovative keyboard pieces, certainly the Hornepype (found in a MS in the British Museum) and probably My Lady Careys Dompe and The Short Mesure off my Lady Wynkfyld's Rownde (sic).
John Coprario (c1570 - 1626) was an English composer and player of the viol and lute. His life history is not known in any detail. He was probably born John Cooper, or Cowper and italicised his name to Coprario, possibly after a sojourn in Italy. Like many musicians of his time he had patrons among the nobility and he became one of the musicians in the service of King James 1st . His compositions include music for viols, music for mixed consort, madrigals, songs and music for royal masques. He was also responsible for a manuscript (c1610) entitled How to Compose (which is still available in facsimile edition). The young William Lawes was apparently apprenticed to Coprario and, more generally, he seems to have been an influential figure among younger composers. (Field 2001)
John Dowland (1563 - 1626) was an English composer and lutenist who was regarded as one of the finest players of his time. He spent much of his career abroad, only achieving a court appointment (with James I) towards the end of his life (probably because he was a Roman Catholic). He is regarded as the author of around 100 lute solos that are found in around 25 of the extant UK manuscripts and almost as many continental sources. He was also the author several printed collections:
First Booke of Songes or Ayres (1596),
Second Booke of Songs or Ayres, (1597),
Third Booke of Songs or Ayres, (1603),
Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares (1604),
A Musicall Banquet (1610) - published by his son Robert, and
A Pilgrimes Solace (1612).
The majority of these works mainly comprise lute songs, though Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares is a book of works for broken consort (with lute parts in tablature and five accompanying instrumental parts in the early form of staff notation known as mensural notation). Very few of his lute solo pieces found their way into printed sources. He is generally recognized as the greatest English composer of lute music and lute songs. (Holman & O’Dette, 2001) (Poulton, 1982).
Robert Dowland (1591 - 1641) son of John Dowland was a lutenist and publisher. Het ook over his father’s position at court in 1626. He published A Musicall Banquet (1610), containing his father’s work and Varietie of Lute-Lessons (1610²) - the full title of which is:
“Varietie of lute-lessons viz. fantasies, pauins, galliards, almaines, corantoes, and volts: selected out of the best approued authors, as well beyond the seas as of our owne country. By Robert Douland. VVhereunto is annexed certaine obseruations belonging to lute-playing: by Iohn Baptisto Besardo of Visonti. Also a short treatise thereunto appertayning: by Iohn Douland Batcheler of Musicke”
- which pretty well sums up its contents. Poulton comment that only four compositions bear Robert Dowland’s own name. Three of these bear indications of his father’s influence. (Poulton & Spencer, 2001)
Alfonso Ferrabosco 1 (1543 - 1588)
Italian composer, son of singer and composer Domenico Ferrabosco. He served Queen Elizabeth I as a courtier between 1562 and 1578; father of Alfonso Ferrabosco II. Works include both sacred and secular vocal music and instrumental works for the lute and the bandora. (Cockshoot & Field, 2001)
Tobias Hume (c1579-1645) was an English composer and viol player. A somewhat unusual figure, his primary career was as a professional soldier. He served as an officer in the Swedish and Russian armies (perhaps among other positions). In his role as a musician he published two important volumes of music, principally for the Lyra Viol. According to a BBC Radio 3 broadcast series on the music of the court of King James, he was a favourite of James Stewart at the time he was Scottish king (James VI), though Rossi (2008) suggests that the connection was with James’s wife Queen Anne (Anna of Denmark). Hume championed the cause of the lyra viol in his writings, to an extent that prompted John Dowland to publish a rebuttal.This exchange exchange is described in my dissertation on the lyra viol (Crouch 2012 p 14). Hume was also something of a musical joker, with unusual compositions such as the Princes Almayne (below) which was "an Invention for Two to Play upone one Viole". Two bows are required and the smaller of the two players is obliged to sit in the lap of the larger player. His instructions to "drum this with the backe of your bow" in another piece, "Harke, harke," constitute the earliest known use of ‘col legno’.
Tobias Hume wrote of himself (in what would now, I suppose, be called an artist’s statement):
“I Doe not studie Eloquence, or profess Musicke, although I doe love Sence, and affect Harmony: my Profession being, as my Education hath beene, Armes, the onely effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke; which in mee hath beene alwayes Generous, because never Mercenarie. To prayse Musicke, were to say, the Sunne is bright. To extoll my selfe, would name my labors vaine glorious. Onely this, my studies are far from servile imitations, I robbe no others inventions, I take no Italian Note to an English dittie, or filch fragments of Songs to stuffe out my volumes. There are mine own Phansies expressed by my proper Genius, which if thou dost dislike, let me see thine, Carpere vel noli nostra, vel ede tua, Now to use a modest shortnes, and a briefe expression of my seffe to all noble spirites, thus, My title expresseth my Bookes Contents, which (if my Hopes faile me not) shall not deceive their expectation, in whose approvement the crowne of my labors resteth. And from henceforth, the stateful instrument Gambo Violl shall with ease yeelde full various and as devicefull Musicke as the Lute. For here I protest the Trinitie of Musicke, parts, Passion and Division, to be as gracefully united in the Gambo Violl, as in the most received Instrument that is, which here with a Souldiers Resolution, I give up to the acceptance of at noble dispositions.”
The suggestion has been made that the character of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is based on Tobias Hume. The following text appears in a couple of places, and I’m not sure who originated the idea:
“Could we then resist the temptation to find in this eccentric character the original (in both senses of the term) of Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night--A grand pint-quaffer, who was as cowardly as he was quarrelsome, played the ‘viol de Gambo’, spoke three or four Languages word for word without book, swore like a pagan, and sang canons in the wildest fashion: such was our captain, as immortalised by his contemporary Shakespeare -- which, who so please may believe, who like not may leave...."
This idea is intriguing but lacks some credibility as Twelfth Night was probably written around 1601 - 02 when Hume would only have been in his early twenties, whereas Aguecheek is generally played as a much older man. [See: http://www.hoasm.org/IVM/Hume.html and https://sites.google.com/site/drtkaufmanartsandmusic/tobias-hume]
Hume’s two printed volumes of music are The first part of ayres (1605) and Captaine Humes poeticall musicke (1607). The first book contains mostly solo pieces together with some duets and trios; the second (shorter) book is mostly duets and trios Including some for combinations of lute or orpharion and viol. Both books include some songs with accompaniment. Both are printed in a mixture of tablature and the early form of staff notation known as mensural notation.
Hume’s music is available in transcription in a modern edition (Jones,1980) with accompanying commentary in German and English. Jones presents the music on a double five line staff (a grand staff with the treble and bass stave close enough to to share middle C).
John Johnson (fl 1579–94 - the date of his birth is unknown) was an English lutenist and composer. He was appointed a lutenist to the court of Elizabeth I in 1580. His music was very popular as evidenced by ballads published in 1588 to be sung to two of his pieces, The Medley and the Flat pavan. His music was also widely disseminated in both English and continental sourcesand there are many rearrangements of his works by contemporaries and near contemporaries. (McGuire & Burgers, 2014)
Robert Johnson (c1583 - 1633) was an English composer and lutenist , the son of John Johnson. A lutenist to King James I from 1604 until his death He also served among the musicians to Prince Henry, and later Prince Charles.
From 1607 onwards Johnson also wrote instrumental music and songs for theatrical productions (including those of William Shakespeare) and court masques (including those of Ben Jonson). The extent of his contribution to masque music is unclear because of music either lost or concealed among unattributed works in manuscript sources but some of his songs remain.
Johnson is the last of the English lute composers to flourish before the adoption of the new lute tunings in England during the 1630s. His compositions are found in all the major lute manuscripts from the decade 1610–20 and usually require a lute with nine or ten courses in Renaissance tuning. They also appear in several sources of the preceding decade and in a few continental sources. They remained popularity after 1630 when transitional tunings gradually became the norm. (Lumsden et al., 2001)
Thomas Mace (c1612 - c1706) was a musician who spent most of his very long life in Cambridge occupying a modest position as “a singing man” at Trinity College. He is chiefly remembered for his book Musick’s Monument: or a Remembrancer of the Best Practical Musick, published in 1676. This is a treatise on music making in which Mace looks back to music making in the reign of Charles I (he was himself a Royalist) a time at which he believed music had reached a level of perfection. The book covers church music, lute music, music in general and the viol. The lute section, entitled The Lute Made Easie, is essentially a lute tutor dealing with technique, stringing, maintenance etc and including a set of instructional suites.
Even a superficial reading of this book suggests that he was a person of some eccentricity. This is somewhat borne out by his two other publications which were:
“The Profit, Conveniency and Pleasure for the Whole Nation: being a short rational Discourse lately presented to his Majesty concerning the Highways of England (1625) and Riddles, Mervels and Rarities, or, A New Way of Health from an Old Man’s Experience “(1698).
Nevertheless his music, if not the greatest of its time, has great charm and energy and much of it is well worth playing. Its comparative obscurity is perhaps related to the fact that most of it is written for a 12 course lute in one of the transitional lute tunings between the renaissance viel ton and the later d minor baroque tuning. (This can be represented as: g’,e’,c’,a, e, B, A, G, F, E, D, C - with retuning of bass courses to suit the key). Perhaps because it is an instructional work, the music is unusual for its time in containing detailed information about the decorations to be used and in indicating dynamics.
There is a modern guitar edition of this music by Shepard-Smith (2005) published by Mel Bay [which does suffer from some of the inevitable errors that creep into this type of transcription] and, more recently the UK Lute Society has published edition for both lute in renaissance tuning and 10-string guitar (Smith and Crouch 2010).
William Lawes (1602 - 1645) was one of four musician sons of Thomas Lawes (?1572 - 1640) an English musician and priest. William and his older brother Henry are both remembered as composers, Henry mainly for vocal music and William primarily for instrumental music (though he did write some songs). Both were associated with the English court of Charles I. A pupil of the lutenist and gamba player John Coprario, Lawes went on to compose for viol consort, lyra viol and keyboard, his music showing influences from early Baroque composers such as Monteverdi as well as remnants of earlier English renaissance style. Most of his output is found in manuscript form; his work was cut short by his death in the English Civil War.
Sylvius Leopold Weiss was a German lutenist and composer, born in Breslau [now Wroclaw] in 1686 and died in Dresden in 1750. His entry in Grove (Reilly et al. 2001) describes Weiss as the greatest lutenist (performer and composer) of the late Baroque and a peer of keyboard players such as J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. He left the largest corpus of music for lute of any composer in the history of the instrument. Most of his surviving works are grouped into suites (sonatas), often with the sequence: allemande, courante, bourrée, sarabande, minuet and gigue (though substitutions for one or more of the movements are common); some begin with an unbarred prelude or a fantasia. Bach clearly had great respect for Weiss’s sonatas since he arranged no.47 as a duo for harpsichord and violin (BWV 1025).
A large proportion of Weiss's surviving music is contained in two major sources, six manuscripts in the Sächsisches Landesbibliothek in Dresden and a manuscript in the British Museum, London, though many other pieces are found scattered in a variety of other manuscript sources. Weiss is one of those composers who, in modern eyes, is overshadowed by Bach but his music is now increasingly becoming available in high quality recordings - there is an emerging series of Weiss recordings on Naxos from Robert Barto; Michel Cardin has recorded the whole of the London Manuscript and a number of other lutenists have recorded some of Weiss's work. The whole of Weiss’s work can be found in modern edition here: https://luthbaroque.fr (as pdfs in baroque tablature and modern notation and as Django files). There is another site, https://www.slweiss.de/ with detailed information about Weiss and his music.