Johnson, Robert (fl.1626) (DNB00)

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JOHNSON, ROBERT (fl. 1626), lutenist and composer, was in 1574 a member of Sir Thomas Kytson's household at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk. In April 1575 he took part in an entertainment provided at Kenilworth by the Earl of Leicester for Queen Elizabeth. Subsequently he came to London, at what date is unknown, but not later than 1610. Dr. Wilson described him as a musician of Shakespeare's company, second only to John Dowland as a performer on the flute, and hence Dr. Rimbault, in his tract ‘Who was Jack Wilson?’ (Lond. 1846), surmises that ‘Wilson may have been Johnson's pupil.’ In 1611 Johnson was in the service of Prince Henry as musician, at an annual salary of 40l. He was afterwards musician to Charles I. His name occurs in a document dated 20 Dec. 1625, which exempts the king's musicians from the payment of certain subsidies, and again in a warrant of 11 July 1626, insuring him a pension of 60l. as ‘king's musician.’

While in London, Johnson composed several pieces for the theatres, including: 1. Music to Middleton's tragi-comedy, ‘The Witch,’ 1610. This is reprinted in Rimbault's ‘Ancient Vocal Music of England,’ as is also a ballad of Johnson's, ‘As I walked forth one summer day.’ 2. Music to Shakespeare's ‘Tempest,’ 1612. Johnson was thus the first to set both of Ariel's songs, ‘Full fadom five thy father lies,’ subsequently harmonised for three voices by Dr. John Wilson in his ‘Cheerful Ayres or Ballads’ (Oxford, 1660), and ‘Where the Bee sucks,’ also harmonised by Wilson, and printed in Hullah's ‘Singers' Library’ (No. 21, 1859) (see Malone, Shakespeare, xv. 61; A List of all the Songs and Passages in Shakespeare which have been set to Music, New Shakspere Soc.) 3. Songs for Beaumont and Fletcher's ‘Valentinian’ and the ‘Mad Lover,’ 1617. 4. Music for Ben Jonson's ‘Masque of the Gipsies,’ 1621. Some of the songs for this remain in manuscript in the Music School, Oxford.

He was one of the contributors to Leighton's ‘Teares or Lamentacions,’ 1614, and the author of a ‘Pavana’ and three ‘Almans,’ included in the manuscript collection known as ‘Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book,’ and preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. Some catches by Johnson in manuscript are in the library of the Sacred Harmonic Society, and the manuscript of an instrumental piece by him is preserved in the Grand-ducal Library of Wolfenbüttel.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 36, iv. 308, 309; Fétis's Biog. Univ. des Musiciens, iv. 443; Cal. State Papers, Dom., Charles I; Add. MS. 24491, f. 1476 (Hunter's Chorus Vatum); Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 171; Harmonic Soc. Libr. Cat.; Fitzwilliam Museum Cat.; Wolfenbüttel Herzogl. Bibl. Cat.; Burney's Hist. of Music, ii. 593; Hawkins's Hist. of Music, v. 433; Johnson's works in British Museum.]

R. F. S.