Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Humfrey, Pelham

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HUMFREY, PELHAM (1647–1674), musician and composer, said to have been the nephew of Colonel John Humphrey, Bradshaw's sword-bearer, was born in 1647. His name occurs as Humphrey, Humphrys, and in other forms, but the above is that adopted by himself. In 1660 he was one of the first set of children of the Chapel Royal, under Henry Cooke. As early as 1664 he appears as a composer, the second edition of Clifford's 'Divine Services and Anthems' containing the words of five anthems which are stated to have been composed by Humfrey, 'one of the children.' In the same year he was associated with Blow and Turner in the composition of an anthem, 'I will always give thanks,' known as the 'Club Anthem,' of which Humfrey wrote the first and Blow the last portion, Turner contributing an intermediate bass solo. This is said by Dr. Tudway to have commemorated a naval victory gained by the Duke of York over the Dutch; but as no such victory took place till 1665, when Humfrey was abroad, it is more probable that it was intended, as Boyce suggests, merely as a memorial of the three writers' friendship.

In 1664 Charles II sent Humfrey abroad to study music. He received from the secret service moneys: 200l. in 1664, 100l. in 1665, and 150l. in 1666, 'to defray the charge of his journey into France and Italy' (Grove). In Paris he was instructed by Lully, whose methods he introduced into England (see Hullah, Modern Music, sect, iv.) On 24 Jan. 1666-7, while still abroad, he was appointed gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and on his return to England was sworn into his office 26 Oct. 1667. On 1 Nov. Pepys heard at the Chapel Royal 'a fine anthem, made by Pelham, who is come over.' On 15 Nov. Pepys writes that 'Mr. Cæsar and little Pelham Humphreys' dined with him. Humfrey, according to Pepys, was 'an absolute monsieur, as full of form, and confidence, and vanity, and disparages everything, and everybody's skill but his own. … After dinner,' Pepys continues, 'we did play, he on the theorbo, Mr. Cæsar on his French lute, and I on the viol, and I see that this Frenchman do somuch wonders on the theorbo, that without question he is a good musician, but his vanity do offend me.' On the following day Pepys went to Whitehall, where Humfrey conducted a concert of 'vocall and instrumentall musick,' chiefly of his own composition, which was not much to Pepys's taste.

On 24 June 1672 Humfrey was elected one of the annual wardens of the Corporation for regulating the Art and Science of Musique (cf. Harl. MS. 1911). On 30 July of the same year he was appointed master of the children in succession to Cooke; and on 8 Aug. 1673 he was, together with Purcell, appointed ‘Composer in Ordinary for the Violins to His Majesty.’

Humfrey died at Windsor, 14 July 1674, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 17 July. He was succeeded as master of the children by Blow. His epitaph, which in Hawkins's time had become effaced, ran: 'Here lieth interred the body of Mr. Pelham Humphrey, who died the fourteenth of July, Anno Dom. 1674, and in the twenty-seventh year of his age' (Keepe,Monumenta Westmonasteriensia, no. 176). His will, dated 23 April [1674], was proved on 30 July 1674 by his widow Catherine, who was appointed 'sole extrix and Mrs.' of all his worldly possessions. He left 'to my cousin Betty Jelfe, Mr. Blow and Besse Gill, each 20 shillings for rings.' His daughter Mary was buried in Westminster Abbey on 23 Feb. 1673–4.

Humfrey was a fine lutenist, and is said to have often composed both the words and music for his songs. His indebtedness to continental models was great, and he was one of the earliest to introduce foreign influences into English music. Boyce considers that he was 'the first of our ecclesiastical composers who had the least idea of musical pathos in the expression of words.'

His compositions, which were chiefly sacred, include a large number of anthems, services, and songs. Of his anthems, seven are printed in Boyce's 'Cathedral Music;' others, including the ‘Club Anthem’ and an evening service, form part of the Tudway collection (Harl. MS. 7338); others are extant in manuscript at Ely, Salisbury, Windsor, Christ Church and the Music School, Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the Additional MSS. in the British Museum. In the last-named collection is an anthem, `By the waters,' by Humfrey and Purcell (Add. MS. 30932), and three services by Humfrey (ib. 31444, 31445, 31459). Three sacred songs, and a ‘Dialogue’ written in collaboration with Blow, were printed in ‘Harmonia Sacra,’ Bk. ii., 1714. He composed a setting of Ariel's song, ‘Where the bee sucks,’ for Davenant and Dryden's version of the 'Tempest' in 1670, and contributed the music for a song, 'Wherever I am,' to Dryden's 'Conquest of Granada,' 1672. He wrote for the king two birthday odes, 'Smile, smile again,' and 'When from his throne,' and a new year's ode, 'See, mighty sir' (ib. 33287). A song, 'The Phoenix,' of which the words were by Charles II and the music by Humfrey, was printed in London in 1705; and Hawkins prints, in the appendix to his 'History of Music,' another song of Humfrey's, 'I pass all my hours in an old shady grove,' of which the words are also attributed to the king. Hawkins states that Humfrey 'composed tunes for many of the songs in the "Theater of Music," "Treasury of Music," and other collections in his time, particularly to the song "When Aurelia first I courted," which was a favourite.' Several of his songs were included in `Choice Ayres, Songs, and Dialogs,' 1676-84, and a few are reprinted in J. S. Smith's 'Musica Antiqua.' Manuscripts of songs and duets by Humfrey are preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Additional MSS. in the British Museum.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 756; Chester's Registers of Westminster Abbey, pp. 183, 184, 205; Pepys's Diary (Bright's edit.), v. 93, 94, 96; Hawkins's Hist. of Music (1853 edit.), pp.718, 937; Burney's Hist. of Music, iii. 444; Christ Church, Fitzwilliam, and Oxford Music School Catalogues; works in Brit. Mus.]

R. F. S.