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Thomas Morley

Thomas Morley

The composer, organist, and theorist Thomas Morley (ca. 1557-ca. 1602) was the chief English exponent of the Italian madrigal tradition.

Thomas Morley was born about 1557 and, sometime between 1602 and 1608, died after a long illness. During his early years he studied composition with William Byrd and organ under Sebastian Westcote. In 1588 Morley received a bachelor of music degree from Oxford and took the position of organist at St. Giles, Cripplegate. In 1591 he became organist at St. Paul's, joining the Chapel Royal the following year. About this time Morley married; he and his wife, Susan, had three children between 1596 and 1600.

During this period Morley, like Byrd a Roman Catholic, encountered trouble as a recusant. Charles Paget, an agent, had intercepted letters which held enough incriminating evidence for him to have had Morley hanged. He repented so abjectly, however, that Paget let him off.

In 1598 Morley applied successfully for the license to print music. But by then his health had begun to fail, and the new outlet proved more burdensome than productive. He had already published his Canzonets to Three Voices (1593), Madrigals to Four Voices (1594), Ballets to Five Voices, and Canzonets to Two Voices (both 1595), and his Canzonets … Selected out of … Italian Authors, Canzonets to Five and Six Voices, and his treatise A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music (all 1597). Between 1598 and 1601 he produced and published a new collection each year and also reedited a great many of his earlier publications. He also left a great quantity of unpublished music, including ten motets, four services, five anthems, keyboard music, and viol consorts.

Morley has been called the father of the English madrigal. He was the earliest and the chief figure in the wholesale transplantation of the Italian madrigal tradition to England, and the quick assimilation of Italian styles and forms into a burgeoning English tradition was largely of his doing. Single-handedly he translated the Italian canzonet into a native form, the English short ayre, in his Canzonets of 1593 and 1595. In the latter collection he also included nine two-part instrumental fantasias, which, though bearing fanciful Italian titles, are marvelous examples of a new and sprightly English counterpoint. In these canzonets, as in the Madrigals to Four Voices and Ballets to Five Voices, Morley obviously patterned his works after Italian models, even paraphrasing a few, but he surpassed these models in harmonic variety and tonal sophistication.

Morley's sacred music is more deeply serious and moving than the canzonets and madrigals. But these sacred works show no greater contrapuntal skill, no more elegant finish in the new English style than the hundredodd secular pieces he had composed on models straight from late Renaissance Italy.

Further Reading

Morley's A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music was edited by R. Alec Harman and contains a brilliant foreword by Thurston Dart (1952). In the absence of a monograph on Morley, the following readings are suggested: Peter Warlock, The English Ayre (1926); Edmund Horace Fellowes, English Cathedral Music (1941; rev. ed. 1970), and The English Madrigal Composers (1948); and Joseph Kerman, The Elizabethan Madrigal: A Comparative Study (1962). □

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Morley, Thomas

Morley, Thomas (b ?Norwich, 1557; d London, 1602). Eng. composer. Pupil of Byrd. Mus.B., Oxford Univ., 1588. Organist, St Paul's Cath. c.1589–92. Almost certainly worked as a government spy. Gentleman of Chapel Royal 1592. In 1598, granted by Elizabeth I exclusive licence for 21 years to print song-books of all kinds and mus. paper. Thus he pubd. not only his own mus. but that of his contemporaries. Pubd. and ed. The Triumphs of Oriana (1601), to which he contributed Arise, awake for 5 vv. and Hard by a crystal fountain for 6 vv. Was one of great masters of Eng. madrigal. Probably friend of Shakespeare: setting of It was a lover and his lass for As You Like It may have been for orig. prod., 1599. Specialized in balletts. Also wrote church mus., incl. Burial Service; lute songs, and A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597). Among his works and publications were: Canzonets for 3 vv. (1593), Madrigals for 4 vv. (1594), 1st Book of Balletts, 5 vv. (1595), 1st Book of Canzonets, 2 vv. (1595), Canzonets, 4 vv. (selected from ‘best It. authors’ but incl. 2 by Morley) (1597), Madrigals, 5 vv. (selected from ‘best It. authors’) (1598), 1st Book of Consort Lessons, 6 instr. (1599), 1st Book of Ayres, lute and bass viol (1600), The Triumphs of Oriana, 5 and 6 vv. ‘by divers several authors’ (1601).

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"Morley, Thomas." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Morley, Thomas

Thomas Morley, c.1557–1603, English composer; pupil of William Byrd. He was gentleman of the Chapel Royal to Queen Elizabeth I and organist of St. Paul's Cathedral. He set to music some of Shakespeare's songs. Morley's works include motets, music for Anglican services, madrigals that are among the most charming examples of this form. He wrote a unique guide to 16th-century English musical practice, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597, new ed. 1952).

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"Morley, Thomas." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Morley, Thomas." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morley-thomas