Music – John Wilbye

Born 1574 died 1638. Wilbye was born at Diss, Norfolk, the son of a well-to-do tanner, who was evidently himself something of a musician, since he bequeathed his lute to his son. When about twenty years of age Wilbye became household musician to the Kytson family of Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, and he continued in the service of this family for thirty years. The Hall still exists and its records give particulars of. the musical instruments and music books in use during Wilbye’s control. Sir Thomas Kytson had a town house, and in this way some of Wilbye’s Madrigals came to be dated from London. Some time after Sir Thomas’s death, Lady Kytson gave Wilbye the best sheep farm in the district as a reward for his faithful service—after which practically no more music appeared ! When Lady Kytson died Wilbye went to live at the house of her daughter, Lady Rivers of Colchester, and there he remained until his death. He died a wealthy man.

All this gives a rather interesting picture of one type of professional life at the period. There were at this time three main opportunities for making a living open to a sound musician in England : (I) Service in the Chapel Royal, (2) Organistship of some Cathedral, (3) Service with a private family. Abroad it was much the same.

Wilbye’s output of composition was not great, but he is reckoned the finest English madrigalist, excelling especially in the more serious style (by which he is to-day, as it happens, less known).

FURTHER READING. Very short article in Grove’s Dictionary by G. E. P. Arkwright; chapter, with much new information, in Fellowes’ English Madrigal Composers; passages in Walker and in Davey, and in Anderton’s Early English Music.

PRINTED MUSIC. The complete Madrigals have been edited by Fellowes (Stainer & Bell, 2 vols., each 16s. 6d.). Two Latin Motets in G. E. P. Arkwright’s `Old English Edition ‘, Vol. XXI (Joseph Williams).

GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. Flora gave me fairest flowers (H. M. V. ; with Weelkes’ On the Plains and Ford’s Since first I saw) ; printed copy, Stainer & Bell (6d.).