Ferrabosco, Alfonso (fl.1544-1587) (DNB00)

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FERRABOSCO or FERABOSCO, ALFONSO (fl. 1544–87), musical composer, contributed madrigals and motets to the set of each collected by Cipriano di Rore and published by Gardano in Venice in 1544. He seems to have settled in England, possibly at Greenwich, some time before 1567, when a pension was conferred upon him by Queen Elizabeth. In a letter written by him to Cecil, 10 Sept. 1567 (State Papers, Eliz. Dom. Ser. vol. xliv. No. 4), he says that he has heard of the queen's intention from ‘the Sigr. Conte di Laester’ (Leicester), and that, being unable to ride through indisposition, he writes to ask that the patent may be continued to his heirs after his death. The mention of his heirs makes it at least probable that his son Alfonso (d. 1628) [q. v.] was already born at this time. During his residence in England he became intimate with William Byrd, with whom he had ‘a vertuous contention in loue made vpon the plainsong of Miserere,’ which contention is subsequently explained to have been the composition of forty different settings of the plainsong, not, as stated in Grove's ‘Dictionary’ and elsewhere, one composition in forty parts. Their productions were afterwards published by East, under the title of ‘Medulla Musicke,’ in 1603 (see Morley, Introduction to Practicall Musicke, p. 115; also Byrd, William, and East, Thomas). ‘Alphonso,’ as he was usually called, attained to great reputation in England, and Peacham, in his ‘Compleat Gentleman’ (ed. 1661, p. 102), says: ‘Alphonso Ferabosco the father, while he lived, for judgement and depth of skill (as also his son yet living), was inferiour unto none; what he did was most elaborate and profound, and pleasing enough in Aire, though Master Thomas Morley censureth him otherwise. That of his “I saw my Lady weeping” and “The Nightingale” (upon which Ditty Master Bird and he in a friendly æmulation exercised their invention) cannot be bettered for sweetnesse of Ayre or depth of judgement.’ Morley's censure, it may be observed, is not to be found, but he recommends him to the student as an example of ‘deep skill’ (Introd. p. 180). ‘The Nightingale’ here noticed was not composed to the English words, but was adapted by Nicholas Yonge for his ‘Musica Transalpina’ from an early composition of Ferrabosco's. The ‘friendly æmulation’ is probably another version of the story told by Morley as to the plainsong ‘Miserere.’ The writer has been misled by the fact that Byrd also set the words ‘The Nightingale, so pleasant and so gay.’ Peacham's authority being thus doubtful, we may surmise that for ‘son’ we should read ‘grandson.’ In the latter part of his life Ferrabosco returned to Italy, and published his ‘second’ book of madrigals in Venice (Gardano) in 1587 (possibly the contributions to Cipriano di Rore's collection ranked as his first set). From the title-page and preface we gather that he had taken service at the ducal court of Savoy. He calls himself ‘gentil'huomo dell' Altezza di Savoia,’ and the madrigals are dedicated to Catherine of Austria, infanta of Spain and duchess of Savoy. The preface is dated ‘Venetia, il di 4. Settembrio. 1587.’ There is no evidence as to his having come back to England; indeed, had it been so, his compositions could hardly with justice have been included in Yonge's ‘Musica Transalpina,’ which consisted exclusively of works by foreign composers, with the single exception of Byrd, mentioned on the title-page. Besides the printed part-books in which his compositions are contained, and which are, of course, of extreme rarity, madrigals by him are included in many of the modern collections, and manuscript copies are to be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and elsewhere. Sir William Leighton's ‘Tears and Lamentacions of a sorrowfull Soule’ (1614) contains three motets by him.

[Grove's Dict. i. 512, iii. 159; documents and authorities quoted above.]

J. A. F. M.