Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Robert White

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English composer, b. about 1530; d. Nov., 1574; was educated by his father, and graduated Mus. D., at Cambridge University, 13 Dec., 1560. In March, 1561, he succeeded Dr. Tye as organist and master of the choristers at Ely cathedral, continuing in that office till 1566. He accepted a similar post at Chester cathedral in 1566, and took part in the Whitsuntide pageants during the years 1567-69. Such was his repute as a choir trainer that in 1570 he was appointed organist and master of the choristers of Westminster Abbey. Though an avowed Catholic he retained his post at Westminster Abbey from 1570 until his death. It is worth recording that during the same period, under Elizabeth, the musical services of the Chapel Royal, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral were directed by three Catholics, namely Farrant, White, and Westcott. White made his will on 5 Nov., 1574, and in it he describes his father Robert White as still living. He left each of the choristers four pence. The high estimation in which he was held by his contemporaries may be judged by the distich which a pupil (in 1581) inscribed in the manuscript score of White's "Lamentations":


"Non ita moesta sonat plangentis verba prophetae

Quam sonat authoris musica moesta mei."

Fortunately quite a large number of White compositions have survived, and of these his Latin motets are sufficient to place him in the front rank of English composers of the Elizabethan epoch. His contrapuntal writing is very fine, though stilted. However, his "Lamentations", set for five voices, have a flavour far in advance of his period, as also his motet "Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem" and "Regina Coeli". It is to be observed that he wrote his English anthems ex officio, but his Latin services reveal the full genius of White, and give him a place with Tallis, Byrd, Shepherd, and Taverner. Strange to say, though he stood so high among mid-sixteenth century musicians, his compositions were almost utterly neglected till unearthed by Dr. Burney. In recent years he has come into his own, thanks to the zeal of Mr. Arkwright, Dr. Terry, and others. Dr. Earnest Walker regards White "fairly to be reckoned — even remembering that Palestrina and Lassus were contemporaries — as among the very greatest European composers of this time". BURNEY, Gen. Hist. of Music (4 vols., London, 1776-89); WALKER, A Hist. of Music in England (London, 1907); GROVE, Dict. of Music and Musicians, V (London, 1910).

W. H. Grattan-Flood.