Thomas Campion


Born: February 12, 1567 Died: March 1, 1620
With John Dowland (ca. 1563-1626), Campion was one of the most prolific composers of English lute songs, or Ayres. A true "renaissance man," Campion also wrote masques for court performances, a critique of English poetry and, in 1613, a treatise on counterpoint. He was also a trained physician. His works were widely disseminated; the best of them demonstrate a capacity for elegant melodic lines that perfectly matches the rhythm of English verse. Unlike most composers of songs, he wrote all of the poems he set to music himself.

Campion's father, John, was a cursitor of the Chancery Court; his mother, Lucy, had a significant sum of money from her previous marriage. On February 12, 1567, Thomas Campion was baptized at the church of St. Andrew, Holborn. Campion left home in 1581, matriculating at Peterhouse, Cambridge, but never completing a degree. In 1586 he entered Gray's Inn, one of the Inns of Court at which young noblemen learned "the ropes" of court life. There he established contacts with potential patrons, in part through his participation in performances of masques attended by members of the nobility, including Queen Elizabeth.

By the early 1590s Campion had become known as a poet; in 1595 he published a book of Latin poems that was particularly well received. His first collection of songs came six years later (1601) as part of Philip Rosseter's A Book of Ayres, the second half of which featured songs by Rosseter. In 1602 Campion's Observations on the Art of English Poesie appeared, in which he discussed rhyme, the structure of poetry, and the proper meters to use when setting English; his skillful setting of English texts is, arguably, the most impressive aspect of his music. For the next decade, Campion concentrated on the contribution of music to masques, including two printed as The Lords Maske, written in 1613. Unfortunately, only the texts of these works survive.

Campion studied medicine at the University of Caen, earning his M.D. on February 10, 1605. This did not derail his compositional activities, however: he composed masques for performance at the court of James I, and his Two Bookes of Ayres was published ca. 1614. A year later he was accused of participating in the plot to murder Sir Thomas Overby by the Earl and Countess of Somerset; however, Campion's name was eventually cleared. The Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres appeared in either 1617 or 1618, and Campion's last published work, Tho. Campiani epigrammatum libi II, was printed in 1619.

All of Campion's Ayres were for solo voice with lute accompaniment; however, many of the songs were printed with the parts for alto, tenor, and bass extracted from the lute texture. His attention to proper text setting of each verse of a poem is remarkable. Although he generally avoided superficial word-painting, he was not above the occasional illustrative passage. For example, in "Mistris since you so much desire," Campion sets the line, "but a little higher," four times in succession, each statement a step higher than the previous. His strict adherence to the rules of four-part counterpoint laid out in his treatise lends a measure of predictability to some of his Ayres, but the best examples show a composer capable of exquisite melodic tailoring, skillful contrapuntal writing, and technical mastery of the lute.

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