Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gibbons, Orlando
GIBBONS, ORLANDO (1583–1625), musical composer, was the son of William Gibbons, who was admitted one of the ‘waits’ of Cambridge on 3 Nov. 1567. Orlando was born at Cambridge in 1583, and in February 1596 entered the choir of King's College. His elder brother, Edward [q. v.], was organist and master of the choristers during the whole time the boy was in the choir. The first entry of the name (spelt ‘Gibbins’) in the list of choristers is in the account for commons for the eighth week after Christmas 1595, from which time the name appears regularly in the weekly lists until the second week after Christmas 1597, when it is placed at the top of the list as that of the senior chorister. The name is again found, only in a single entry, in the list for the third week after Michaelmas 1598, but, as it is not at the top, it probably refers to a younger brother. At Michaelmas 1601, 1602, and 1603 he received from the college sums varying from 2s. to 2s. 6d. for music composed ‘in festo Dominæ Reginæ,’ and at Christmas 1602 and 1603 similar payments were made to him for music for the Feast of the Purification. Although the christian name is not given, these entries in all probability refer to him. Gibbons was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal in London on 21 March 1604, in the place of Arthur Cock, deceased. In 1606 he took the degree of Mus.B. at Cambridge (Baker, Reg. Acad. Cant. quoted by Wood; Fasti, i. 406), and at that time it was stated that he had studied music for seven years. If this is to be relied upon, his attention must have been turned to composition about the time of his leaving the choir of King's. The Orlando Gibbons who was a M.A. of Cambridge, and was incorporated in the same degree at Oxford in 1607, cannot have been the composer, but may possibly have been that bearer of the name who was baptised at Oxford 25 Dec. 1583, which was, strangely enough, the year of the composer's birth. In 1611 the composer first came before the world as the associate of Byrd and Bull, in the collection of virginal pieces called ‘Parthenia.’ His pieces are placed at the end of the volume, and consist of two galliards, a fantasia of four parts, ‘The Lord of Salisbury his Pavin,’ the ‘Queen's Command,’ and a preludium. The fantasia is perhaps the most remarkable piece of instrumental music of the period; it is a sustained work in fugal form written with consummate contrapuntal skill, and developed with the hand of a master. A state paper of the same year contains Gibbons's petition to the Earl of Salisbury for a lease in reversion of forty marks per annum of duchy lands, without fine, as promised him by the queen (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. James I, vol. lxvii. No. 140). In 1612 there appeared ‘The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets of 5 Parts: apt for Viols and Voyces. Newly composed by Orlando Gibbons, Batcheler of Musicke, and Organist of his Maiesties Honourable Chappell in Ordinarie. London: Printed by Thomas Snodham, the Assigne of W. Barley, 1612.’ The dedication to Sir Christopher Hatton, knight of the Bath, implies that the composer was on terms of intimacy with his patron. ‘They were most of them composed in your owne house and doe therefore properly belong vnto you, as Lord of the Soile; the language they speak you prouided them, I onely furnished them with Tongues to vtter the same.’ From the last sentence it has been inferred that Sir Christopher wrote the words, some of which are remarkably good. There are no motets, as the title would lead us to expect, but the thirteen complete madrigals, some of which are divided into two, three, or even four sections, each as long as an ordinary madrigal, are among the masterpieces of their class. The ‘Silver Swan’ is generally considered as the most perfect work of the kind of the English school, and its wonderful conciseness, the exceeding beauty of each part, and the charm of its melodic treatment, fully explain its lasting popularity. In contrast to this, the sustained power of the set of four, beginning ‘I weigh not fortune's frown,’ is very remarkable.
The composer's connection with the family of his patron is shown in the title given to one of the twenty-seven pieces preserved in what is known as ‘Benjamin Cosyn's virginal book,’ in Buckingham Palace. The galliard on p. 170 of that volume is called in the index the ‘La. Hatten's Galliard.’ The virginal book at Cambridge known as ‘Queen Elizabeth's’ contains a pavane, and another composition in the same form is in Addit. MS. 29996; Addit. MS. 31403 contains, besides the ‘preludium’ with which ‘Parthenia’ concludes, six pieces by Gibbons, called variously ‘voluntary’ or ‘fantazie.’ The ‘Wood soe wilde’ is an air with variations.
His work for stringed instruments, though far less extensive than either his sacred or secular vocal music, is exceedingly interesting, since his compositions are among the first designed distinctively for instruments. In earlier times, and in his own set of madrigals, the viols were only permitted to take the vocal parts, and in the set of pieces for three stringed instruments in Addit. MSS. 30826–8, three of which are by Gibbons, and more particularly in his own ‘fantasies,’ the first signs of transition may be seen from the exceedingly dry ‘In nomines’ of the older generation to the chamber music of the period of the Restoration. The title presents considerable difficulties to the biographer. It runs: ‘Fantasies of Three Parts composed by Orlando Gibbons, Batchelour of Musick and Late Organist of his Majesties Chappell Royall in Ordinary. Cut in Copper, the like not heretofore extant. London: At the Bell in St. Paul's Churchyard.’ There is no date to the part-books and the word ‘Late’ is inexplicable, since there is no evidence that Gibbons gave up his post or was dismissed from it during his life. The date must have been earlier than 1622, as it is dedicated to Edward Wray, as one of the grooms of the king's bedchamber, and in that year Wray lost his place (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. James I, vol. cxxviii. No. 96). Besides his published madrigals no secular or vocal compositions exist in manuscript except a kind of burlesque madrigal entitled ‘The Cries of London,’ for six voices, preserved in Addit. MSS. 29372–7, in the library of the Royal College of Music and elsewhere. Other compositions of the kind, as the ‘Country Cry,’ &c., are found, but without composer's names, in Addit. MSS. 17792–17796 and 29427. These may or may not be by Gibbons. The more important manuscript collections are rich in copies of his church compositions, which consist of two sets of ‘preces,’ two full services in F and D minor respectively, and some twenty-one anthems preserved entire. Another, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life,’ is in the incomplete set of part-books (Add. MSS. 29366–8). The complete sacred compositions were edited with great care and skill by the late Sir F. A. Gore Ouseley (London, 1873). In a copy of some of the anthems (Addit. MS. 31821) sundry pieces of information, apparently given on the authority of Dr. Philip Hayes, are noted in pencil, concerning the circumstances under which the anthems were written. Thus ‘Blessed are all they’ is ‘a wedding anthem made for my Lord of Somerset;’ ‘Great King of Gods’ was ‘made for the King's being in Scotland, 1617;’ and ‘This is the record of John’ was ‘made for Laud, the president of John's, Oxford, for John Baptist's Day.’ The second of these entries may explain one of the titles given in Grove's ‘Dictionary,’ ‘Fancies and Songs made at K. James I's being in Scotland,’ of which no trace is to be found. Another title there given, ‘A Song for Prince Charles for 5 voices with wind instruments,’ is also not forthcoming. As Laud was president of St. John's College from 1611 to 1621, we have a limit of time for the composition of one of the most interesting of Gibbons's works, which shows to what an extent the new methods of music which came into vogue at the beginning of the century had been assimilated by one who excelled most of his contemporaries in the older polyphonic style. One other anthem is dated by a manuscript copy in the library of St. George's Chapel, Windsor. It is there recorded that the anthem ‘Behold, Thou hast made my days,’ was composed at the request of Anthony Maxey, dean of Windsor, and was performed at his funeral. In an autograph copy of the same work in the library of Christ Church, Oxford, it is stated to have been ‘Composed at the entreaty of Dr. Maxey, Dean of Windsor, the same day se'nnight before his death.’ Dean Maxey was succeeded on 11 May 1618 by De Dominis [q. v.], archbishop of Spalatro. Besides the anthems the sacred works comprise two hymns for four and five voices respectively, contributed to Sir William Leighton's ‘Teares and Lamentacions,’ published 1614. Only four of the sixteen hymn tunes contained in George Wither's ‘Hymns and Songs of the Church’ (1623, reprinted by J. Russell Smith in 1856) are contained in Ouseley's edition. The tunes are in two parts, and are studiedly simple in style; in his dedication to the king Wither says of Gibbons, ‘He hath chosen to make his music agreeable to the matter, and what the common apprehension can best admit, rather than to the curious fancies of the time; which path both of us could more easily have trodden.’ Two slight references to Gibbons before this date may be mentioned. On 17 July 1615 two bonds of the value of 150l., forfeited by one Lawrence Brewster of Gloucester and his sureties for his non-appearance before the high commission court at Lambeth, were granted to Gibbons (State Papers; Coll. Sign-Manuals, James I, vol. v. No. 38). On St. Peter's day 1620 he had a dispute with one Eveseed, a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, when the latter ‘did violently and sodenly without cause runne uppon Mr. Gibbons, took him up and threw him doune uppon a standard wherby he receaved such hurt that he is not yett recovered of the same, and withall he tare the band from his neck to his prejudice and disgrace’ (Old Cheque Book, ed. Rimbault, p. 102). It is proved beyond any doubt that Gibbons accumulated the degrees of bachelor and doctor of music at Oxford, on 17 or 18 May 1622, on the occasion of the foundation of the history professorship by Camden, who requested the university to confer the musical degrees upon his friend Heather, the first professor, and Gibbons. Wood failed to find the official record of the degree in Gibbons's case, but a letter from Dr. Piers to Camden, quoted in Hawkins's ‘History’ (ed. 1853, p. 572 n.), establishes the matter. It is also certain that Gibbons's anthem ‘O clap your hands’ served as Heather's exercise for the degree. A copy bearing the unequivocal inscription ‘Dr. Heather's Commencement song, compos'd by Dr. Orlando Gibbons,’ was sold at Gostling's sale, and is now in the possession of Mr. W. H. Cummings. In 1623 the composer was rated as residing in the Woolstaple, Westminster (where Bridge Street now stands) (Books of St. Margaret's, Westminster, quoted in Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. x. 182). In 1625, on the occasion of the reception of Henrietta Maria by Charles I, Gibbons was commissioned to compose the music for the ceremony, and was commanded to be present at Canterbury. Here, on 5 June, Whitsunday, he died of a kind of apoplectic seizure, and was buried in the cathedral. His widow erected a monument over his tomb with a Latin inscription, under a bust of the composer surmounted by his arms. He is said in it to have died ‘accito ictuque heu Sanguinis Crudo.’ There was at the time some suspicion that Gibbons had died of the plague, and the tradition that small-pox was the cause seems to have been early circulated. It is actually inserted in all the translations of the inscription, and has been accepted by all musical historians as a satisfactory equivalent of the Latin words; but fortunately in November 1885 Mr. W. Barclay Squire communicated to the ‘Athenæum’ (No. 3029) a letter discovered by him among the State Papers from Sir Albertus Morton to his fellow secretary of state, Lord Edward Conway, and it is endorsed ‘June 6, 1625. Mr. Secretarie Morton Touchinge the musitian that dyed at Canterburie and suggested to have the plague.’ The writer encloses a medical certificate of death signed by Drs. Poe and Domingo, stating that his sickness was at first ‘lethargicall,’ that subsequently convulsions came on, and he ‘then grew apoplecticall and so died.’ His widow, Elizabeth, was the daughter of John Patten of Westminster, yeoman of the vestry of the Royal Chapel. Between 1607 and 1623 she bore him seven children, of whom one only, Christopher [q. v.], attained distinction in music. She outlived him only by a year, her will being proved 30 July 1626. A portrait of the composer by an unknown artist is in the Music School at Oxford. It is a copy from a lost original once in the possession of a Mrs. Fussell.
[Authorities and documents quoted above; Grove's Dict. i. 594, iv. 310, 312, 313, 647; Hawkins's Hist. pp. 572–3; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 190; Cooper's Annals of the University and Town of Cambridge, iii. 176; Ouseley's Preface to complete Sacred Works of Gibbons, 1873; Old Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal; Catalogues of Christ Church and Music School Libraries, Oxford, and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Wood's Fasti, i. 406 n.; Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 17840, 17841, 17792–6, 29289, 29366–8, 29372–7, 29430, 30933, 31281, 31403–5, 31415, 31443, 31460, 31462, &c.; Wither's Hymns and Songs of the Church, reprint of 1856 (the British Museum copy of the 1623 edition wants the dedication, in which Gibbons's name appears); Athenæum, No. 3029; Mus. Ant. Soc. reprint of Gibbons's Madrigals and Fantasies, pref. &c. Musical Society, No. 1, 1886; Dart's Hist. of Canterbury, pp. 51, 52.]