Thomas Morley


Born: 1557 Died: October, 1602
Thomas Morley, though born the obscure son of a Norwich brewer, rose over the course of his life to centrality in nearly every aspect of Elizabethan musical culture. Though no records of his early training survive, he apparently studied with William Byrd, as the dedication of his theoretical treatise A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597) calls Byrd his "Master." His professional career included service at the Cathedral of Norwich (1583 to July 1587), a Bachelor's degree in Music from Oxford in 1588, service as organist at St. Paul's in London from 1589, and a position as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal as of 1592. From 1593 until his death (apparently in 1602), he presented a total of eleven musical publications - compositions, arrangements, and writings -- which brought him to the forefront of national attention. He may have been friends with Shakespeare.

Many of his own compositions, especially those for the Church, betray the influence of his teacher Byrd. A small number of Latin motets, and a selection of Anglican anthems abound in severe (and well-wrought) counterpoint; three full Anglican services and a setting of the Funeral Sentences, however, display more clarity and simplicity of texture. His keyboard works and consort music demonstrate skill and fluency in an inherited idiom.

The most influential of Morley's varied musical activities was his effort on behalf of the madrigal; indeed, he was a prime force in the adoption of this quintessential Italian form into the world of Elizabethan England. In 1595 he printed a volume, with parallel English and Italian editions, of canzonets and one of balletts, adapting and arranging these lighter Italian pieces by Anerio and Gastoldi to English usage; these were followed by two more anthologies of Italian music in 1597 and 1598. A large number of his own English madrigals were also printed; many of which are artful rearrangements of Italian models, such as Sing we and Chant It, which expands Gastoldi's A lieta vita, while others broach original themes in the style, including his best-known madrigal April is in my Mistress' Face, from the first book of madrigals of 1594. His very last publication, the Triumphs of Orianna (1602), presents a collection of his own and others' madrigals which honor the Queen. Throughout these works, Morley concentrates on lighter forms, avoiding the more "serious" devices of word-painting and chromaticism.

In addition to his work as organist, church composer, madrigalist, editor, and music printer, he assumed the Crown Monopoly on music printing first awarded to Byrd. In 1597 Morley authored a "Practicall" treatise on the notation and composition of music ("that in our vulgar tongue which of all other things hath been in writing least known to our countrymen"). The volume is passionate and quite readable, demonstrating its author's deep researches into the development of music, especially Italian music, and his desire to make his knowledge available to the public.

There are 142 Thomas Morley recordings available.

See All Recordings, or browse by Composition Type, Popular Work, or Formats & Featured