Humfrey, Pelham

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Humfrey, Pelham

Humfrey, Pelham, English composer; b. 1647; d. Windsor, July 14, 1674. He was among the first children appointed to the restored Chapel Royal in 1660, and (together with fellow-choristers John Blow and William Turner) he wrote the famous Club Anthem. In 1664 King Charles II sent him to study in France and Italy under the Secret Service Funds; that he worked under Lully remains unverified, nor can it be proved that he got to Italy. He returned to England in 1666 as lutenist of the Chapel Royal, and was appointed Gentleman of the Chapel Royal on Jan. 24, 1667. An entry in Pepys’s diary for Nov. 15, 1667, described him as being “full of form, and confidence, and vanity” and disparaging “everything, and everybody’s skill but his own.” Humfrey’s justification of his self-confidence lay in his undoubted mastery of the Italian declamatory style, greater than anyone had yet achieved in England. On July 14, 1672, he was appointed Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal. Two years later he died, at the early age of 27. One of his wards was the young Henry Purcell, whose style clearly shows Humfrey’s influence. A number of his secular songs were publ, in collections of his era. A complete ed. of his sacred music has been prepared by P. Dennison in Musica Britannica, XXXIV-XXXV (London, 1972).


22 secular songs; 5 sacred songs; a dialogue, composed with John Blow; songs and vocal ensembles for Shadwell’s version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest; 3 odes, all to Charles II; 26 anthems, of which 19 are extant (1 composed with John Blow and William Turner).


P. Dennison, The Life and Works of P. H. (diss., Oxford Univ., 1970); idem, P. H. (London, 1986).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire