Pelham Humfrey

Biography

Born: 1647   Died: July 14, 1674; Windsor, Ontario, Canada  
Pelham Humfrey was an English composer known for his verse anthems, works whose style shows the influence of Italian music in its vocal character, and French music, particularly that of Lully, in its instrumental writing. That said, Humfrey managed to forge from these disparate influences and his own innovations a uniquely English character in his anthems.

Humfrey was born in the latter half of 1647 or first half of 1648 -- at his death
Read more on July 14, 1674, his age was given as 26. His first exposure to music was probably as a choirboy; in 1660 he was taken into the Chapel Royal, where he became the leading chorister over the course of the next four years. During this period Humfrey composed at least five anthems for church service, though four were ultimately lost.

In 1664 King Charles II paid to have him sent to France and Italy for study. There is some evidence to suggest Humfrey became a student of Lully in France. In 1666, while still abroad, Humfrey was appointed a royal lutenist in the Private Music, and the following year, Gentleman of the Royal Chapel.

He returned to England in October 1667, and while maintaining his ties to the Chapel Royal, began turning out songs for plays and various Court productions. He would thereafter produce a number of such songs, as well as verse anthems and devotional songs.

In 1670 Humfrey was appointed Assistant for the Corporation of Music (a guild), and in 1672 served as one of its wardens. He gained two additional posts that same year: on January 10, Humfrey was appointed, with Thomas Purcell, composer for the violins at the Royal Chapel, and on July 14 he became Master of the Children at the Chapel, succeeding Henry Cooke, who had held the post when Humfrey was a chorister there.

By early 1674, Humfrey's health was in decline, as evidenced by the fact he drew up a will on April 23 of that year. He was apparently well enough, however, to travel with the Court to Windsor later on, but died there on July 14.

The famous English diarist Samuel Pepys commented, after dinner with Humfrey in November 1667, that the young composer was vain and disparaged the talents of others. Still, Pepys expressed great admiration for Humfrey's music. Read less