Ramblings on A Musical Disaster
Ruling from 1509 until his death in 1547, Henry's interest in music was apparent from an early age. One of the reasons the teenage monarch cut such an impressive and popular figure at the beginning of his reign was his devotion to the art. He had received a thorough musical education and was accomplished on the lute, organ, and virginals; he could also sing well. The royal court included musicians from the Netherlands and Italy as well as England. One of Henry’s favorite activities was sight-reading songs with his courtiers.
Henry certainly recognized the importance of government support of the arts. Edward IV had employed only five musicians; his grandson increased the total to fifty-eight.
Churches and monasteries were the centres of studying music, of developing the art, of recording, perpetuating and creating new religious works. How much was this process damaged during Henry's dissolution of the monasteries?
Plato and the Puritans
Why did the Puritans object to the music and painting of the Catholic Church? The answer lies in the seventh book of Plato's, Republic.
Reformation and Elizabeth I
If there was one century in the past that saw radical changes in established ways of thinking comparable to the 20th century, it would be the 16th. Before this, in Western Europe, there was only one type of Christianity—under the authority of the Pope in Rome. But in 1517 a German theologian and monk, Martin Luther, sparked the Protestant Reformation. His ideas spread quickly, thanks in part to the printing press (credited to the German printer Johannes Gutenberg in 1450). Luther challenged the power of the Pope and the Church, and asserted the authority of individual conscience. At the same time, it was increasingly possible for people to read the Bible in the languages that they spoke. It is also during this period that the Scientific Revolution began and observation replaced religious doctrine as the source of our understanding of the universe and our place in it. At mid-century, Copernicus suggested that the sun was at the center of the solar system (not the earth), radically repositioning human beings and therefore calling into question our centrality in the scheme that God had made.
This created a problem for composers as the Protestant Reformation meant strict rules of conformity. How much damage may this have done to the creative freedom of musicians? Settings to Latin words, for example, were forbidden. The music was to be a clear and uncluttered exposition of religious faith.
Elizabeth I was queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. She was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. One of her first acts as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor.
Tallis, Byrd and Purcell
Three English composers, following in the footsteps of John Dunstable were:
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), an English composer who occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, is considered one of England's greatest composers. He seems to have adapted to (or ignored) the strictures and dangers afforded by catholic and protestant dynasties, although his music can express these conflicts of interest.
William Byrd (1540-1623) was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard, and consort music.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695), was an English composer. Although living and working in the century after Tallis and Byrd, Purcell is included here for it was the Tallis/Byrd legacy, coupled with Italian and French stylistic elements in Purcell's compositions that created his own legacy of a uniquely English form of Baroque music. This perhaps represents the all-time pinnacle of English music.