Pelham Humfrey

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Pelham Humfrey (also: Humphrey) (born London 1647; died Windsor 14 July 1674) was an English composer in the Baroque period. Although he died at the age of 26 he had an important influence on English composers such as William Turner and Henry Purcell. He lived at the time of the Restoration, when England was ruled by a king once more after two decades of republican rule, during which music had not been allowed in churches.

Life[change | change source]

We do not know much detail about his early life. He seems to have been a choirboy in the Chapel Royal by 1660. During this time he was obviously becoming a very gifted composer. Other boys in the choir included John Blow and William Turner. As a young man he travelled to France where he heard music by French composers such as Lully and Italians such as Carissimi. This helped him to form his own style. He became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He wrote some fine anthems, although the diarist Samuel Pepys thought that he was showing off. This may be because Pepys did not like the new kind of music. He married the daughter of his old choir master Henry Cooke. He became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal. This meant that he was in charge of the children in the king's chapel choir. He was also a court composer.

He became ill and died at the age of 26. He was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.

His music[change | change source]

Humfrey composed a lot of music during his very short life. It helped to form the English Baroque style. He mostly wrote church music, but he also wrote some music for the theatre.

Humfrey liked to compose music which excited people's emotions. Some of his melodies jump around in unexpected ways. There is a lot of chromaticism. Some of his best anthems include: O Lord my God, By the waters of Babylon and Like as the hart. He wrote 27 songs. Five of them are religious songs, and they are some of the best songs of that time.

References[change | change source]

  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1561-59174-2