Ferrabosco, Alfonso (d.1628) (DNB00)

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FERRABOSCO or FERABOSCO, ALFONSO (d. 1628), lutenist and composer, is said to have been ‘born at Greenwich of Italian parents’ (Wood, MS. Notes, in Bodleian). If so he must have been born some time before 1587, possibly as early as 1567 [see Ferrabosco, Alfonso, fl. 1544–1587]. Dowland, in his ‘Varietie of Lute Lessons,’ 1610, calls him ‘the most Artificiall and famous Alfonso Ferrabosco of Bologna.’ This would imply that he was taken to Italy by his father, and that he studied music and lute-playing at Bologna. A Domenico Maria Ferrabosco was ‘maestro di cappella’ of S. Petronio in Bologna in the sixteenth century (Paloschi, Annuario Musicale, index). The gift of music seems to have been diffused through this family to a degree that is comparatively rare in musical history. In Bull's ‘Virginal Music’ (Addit. MS. 23623) there is an arrangement of a ‘Toccata di Roma, sexti toni,’ by Hieronimo Ferabosco, whose music may very possibly have been introduced to Bull by the elder Alfonso. From the internal evidence of the second Alfonso's music it is clear that he imbibed none of his father's ‘deep skill,’ and that he attached himself definitely to the new school of music which sprang up in Italy at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is not known whether he was actually one of the musical revolutionaries who met at the house of Giovanni Bardi in Florence, and who ultimately changed the massive polyphony which had been the chief glory of the previous century to the slight and easy monody, which gave free scope for the portrayal of dramatic situations. It is certain, however, that he was one of the first who brought the new music into England. His migration must have taken place very early in the century, for on 22 March 1605 he received the appointment of extraordinary groom of the privy chamber and musical instructor to Prince Henry, with a pension of 50l. per annum. In 1609 his ‘Ayres’ were published by Snodham, and were dedicated to his royal pupil. The composer in the dedication calls the work his ‘Firstfruits,’ so that we may take it for granted that the publication of the songs preceded that of the ‘Lessons’ for viols, which were issued in the same year. To the ‘Ayres’ are prefixed complimentary sonnets by Ben Jonson, Campion, and N. Tomkins. The accompaniments to the songs, the words of many of which are from Ben Jonson's masques, &c., are in lute tablature. Three of the songs are printed by Burney, who, however, expresses anything but admiration for the composer's style. Like all the productions of the early monodists, the melodies seem extraordinarily harsh, crude, and uninteresting. The volume of lessons for one, two, and three viols contains poems by Ben Jonson and ‘Gual: Quin,’ the latter in Italian. From the preface we learn that the pieces had already obtained a certain reputation, having been circulated in incorrect copies. Anthony à Wood (MS. Notes) says that ‘divers Fantazies or Fancies for 5 and 6 parts’ were ‘played to the great admiration of many, but I think few or none of them are yet extant. Some of his compositions are in the Musick School at Oxford.’ In 1610 a ‘Fantasie’ and ‘Pavin’ by him appeared in Dowland's ‘Varietie of Lute Lessons,’ and similar compositions, some in four parts, are to be found in manuscript collections in the British Museum (e.g. Add. MSS. 29427, 29996) and elsewhere. In some of these he is called ‘the elder,’ as being the elder of the two lutenists of the name, and it is this which has given rise to the supposition that there were only two Ferraboscos, the elder of whom is accredited, not merely with having died at a distance of eighty-five years from the date of his first publication, but with having composed at one time of his life madrigals of the most flowing and graceful kind, and at another songs in the harshest style of monody. Mr. Peter Cunningham quotes, but without giving his authority, a document which shows that Ferrabosco held his court appointments throughout his life. On 5 Dec. 1623 a warrant for 20l. is granted to him as ‘one of his Maties. Musicons’ for a ‘New lyra and vall de gambo by him bought.’ At the accession of Charles I his name appears in a list of those whose salaries or pensions were in arrear; one quarter's payment (12l. 10s.) is owing to him (State Papers, Dom. Chas. I, vol. i. No. 117). In 1626 (7 July) he was appointed to succeed Coperario [q. v.] as composer in ordinary. On 19 March 1627–8 his son, the third of the name, was sworn as ‘a musician to His Majesty for the Viols and Wind Instruments in the place of his father, Alfonso Ferrabosco, deceased.’ On the 28th of the same month a similar entry is found in the State Papers, in which the names of Alfonso and Henry Ferrabosco are found together as taking their father's place as musician.

[Rymer's Fœdera, ed. 1715, xvi. 611; Burney's History, iii. 138, 346; Grove's Dict. i. 512; works of Ferrabosco, printed and manuscript, quoted above; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Charles I, App. 7 July 1626, 1627–8, xcviii. p. 44; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 450.]

J. A. F. M.