Thomas Morley

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Thomas Morley (born Norwich?, 1557 or 1558; died London, October 1602) was an English composer, music theorist and organist. He was the most important English composer of madrigals. He studied the madrigals by Italian composers and created the tradition of the English madrigal, a tradition that became extremely popular, but which only lasted about 30 years.

Life[change | change source]

Morley’s father was a brewer who lived in Norwich, so it is likely that Morley was born there. He may have been a choirboy in Norwich Cathedral. We know that in 1583 he got the job of organist there. In a book he published later in his life he said that William Byrd was his master. If this means that he had lessons from Byrd he must have travelled away from Norwich. In 1588 he got a degree from Oxford, and soon afterwards he became an organist at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

In 1588 Nicholas Yonge published a book called Musica transalpina. It was a collection of Italian madrigals with words translated into English. Soon after this Morley started to publish his own madrigals. In 1592 he became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal.

In London Morley lived near Shakespeare. We do not know whether the two men worked together, but Morley did set Shakespeare’s words "It was a lover and his lass" from As You Like It. We do not know whether it was ever used in a performance of Shakespeare's play. It is quite possible, because Morley was well-known.

From 1593 onwards Morley published a great deal of music and also made a lot of money out of music publishing, both of his own and other composers’ music.

It is thought that Morley died in October 1602.

His music[change | change source]

Morley wrote sacred music as well as madrigals. His church music is strongly influenced by William Byrd.

His madrigals are his most important works. They are often very lively and have tunes that are easy to sing. One of his best known madrigals is called Now is the Month of Maying. He started by using the Italian style and changed it to make it sound English. The madrigals of Thomas Weelkes and John Wilbye are usually more serious.

As well as madrigals, Morley wrote music for instruments, including keyboard music. Some of his pieces are in the famous collection called Fitzwilliam Virginal Book). He also wrote music for the typically English combination of two viols, flute, lute, cittern and bandora.

Morley wrote a book about music theory called Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke. It was published in 1597 and was read by many people for two centuries after his death. It tells us a lot about how music was performed in Morley’s