White, Robert (1540?-1574) (DNB00)

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WHITE, ROBERT (1540?–1574), musician, was probably born about 1540. His father, who outlived him, was also named Robert. A John White supplicated Mus. Bac. Oxon. in 1528. There is some reason to suppose that the elder Robert White was an organ-builder. In 1531, and on several subsequent occasions until 1545, a Magister White repaired the organ of Magdalen College, Oxford. He was wrongly identified by Cope with the composer, but may have been his father. The parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn, in 1553 ‘gave young Whyte 5l. for ye great orgaynes wh his father made for ye church.’ This organ was sold in 1572 to ‘Robert White, gentleman of Westminster,’ and John Thomas. In 1574 the elder Robert White had been for some time living with his son at Westminster, and these entries may not improbably all refer to him.

The first definite fact recorded of the younger White is that, having studied music ten years, he graduated Mus. Bac. Cantabr. on 13 Dec. 1560. He was required, under penalty of 40s. fine, to compose a communion service to be sung in St. Mary's Church on commencement day. ‘Omnia peregit’ was added in the grace book. In a set of part-books, written in 1581, preserved at Christ Church, Oxford, White is styled ‘batchelar of art, batchelar of musick;’ but in his own and his wife's wills ‘batchelar of musick’ only. Very soon after graduating, and not later than Michaelmas 1562, White succeeded Dr. Christopher Tye [q. v.] as master of the choristers at Ely Cathedral, and was paid the same salary, 10l., as Tye, who had been also styled organist, had received. White probably married Ellen Tye at Doddington not long afterwards. The baptism of their daughter Margery is recorded on 23 Dec. 1565 at Ely. He must have resigned his appointment in 1566, as John Farrant [see under Farrant, Richard] received a year's salary as master of the choristers at Michaelmas 1567. White was appointed in or before 1570 master of the choristers and organist at Westminster Abbey; to the former post was allotted, by Queen Elizabeth's foundation, ‘a house, 4l. in regard, and 3l. 6s. 4d. for every one of the tenne Queresters, besydes a yerely lyverey to each one, and a bushell of wheate weekely.’ Between 1570 and 1573 three daughters of Robert White were baptised at St. Margaret's, Westminster. All these apparently died during the pestilence of 1574, and were buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret's; and on 7 Nov. Robert White made his will, directing he should be buried near them. He was buried on 11 Nov., and on the 21st his wife made her will. She died soon after, and letters of administration were taken out on 8 Dec. Two daughters, Margery and Anne, survived. Robert White possessed the estate of Swallowfield and Winslowes at Nuthurst, West Sussex, which he bequeathed to his wife. From her will it appears that she had sisters named Mary Rowley [see Tye, Christopher] and Susan Fulke, a brother-in-law Thomas Hawkes, and an aunt Anne Dingley. She left the children in charge of her mother, Katherine Tye, probably Dr. Tye's widow.

Robert White in his short life attained a high reputation as a composer. The part-books at Christ Church contain the couplet:

    Maxima musarum nostrarum gloria White,
    Tu peris: æternum sed tua musa manet.

Baldwin, writing in 1591, begins his list of great musicians with White. Morley mentions him among the famous Englishmen ‘nothing inferior’ to the best masters on the continent, and justifies the use of a sixth as the beginning of a composition, by the authority of White and Lassus. But as White had published nothing, he became forgotten and confused with later musicians named White (see below), until Burney rediscovered him.

In Barnard's ‘Selected Church Musick,’ 1641, there is one anthem by White, ‘The Lord blesse us;’ but it was not included in Boyce's ‘Cathedral Music.’ Burney printed another, ‘Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle,’ from the Christ Church part-books. Burns's ‘Anthems and Services’ contains a third, ‘O praise God in His holiness.’ Arkwright's Old English Edition, No. xxi., has ‘The Lord blesse us’ in score, and ‘O how glorious art Thou!’ All these are anthems for five voices, except ‘O praise God,’ which is for double choir. There are unprinted works, generally to Latin words, in early manuscripts at Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Royal College of Music, the Bodleian and Christ Church libraries at Oxford, St. Peter's, Cambridge, Tenbury, and several cathedrals. A fairly complete list is given in Grove's ‘Dictionary,’ iv. 452. White completed a setting of the ‘Lamentations’ which had been begun by Tallis, and at Buckingham Palace there is a continuation by White of a motet by Tye. Except some fancies for the lute, no instrumental music by White is known.

White's printed anthems are models of pure polyphony, beautifully melodic themes joining in harmonies of the richest effect. The warm eulogies of Burney, Fétis, and Ambros, and the great value of White's very few known works, have caused general expectation that his unprinted works are also masterpieces. Nagel, who judges that White, though superior to all his predecessors, lived a few years too soon for the perfect union of spiritual beauty with formal mastery, proclaims that it is a bounden duty of the English nation to edit White's complete works. Some who have scored various manuscripts report less favourably, and have found a stiffness which suggests an earlier period, and might rather be expected from the John White at Oxford in 1528. In a set of part-books at the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 17802–5) there is a ‘Libera me’ constructed upon a plain-song in long notes. Burney possessed an important manuscript, at present undiscoverable, containing twenty-seven pieces by White, of which he speaks with enthusiasm.

Matthew White (fl. 1610–1630), to whom Robert White's works are often attributed in seventeenth-century manuscripts, was at Wells Cathedral, and in 1611 organist of Christ Church, Oxford. In 1613 he was sworn a gentleman of the chapel royal, but resigned next year. In 1629 he accumulated the degrees of Mus. Bac. and Mus. Doc. Oxon. Anthony Wood, in his 'Lives of English Musicians' (Wood MSS. 19 D 4 in the Bodleian Library) confuses Matthew with Robert White. The collections (now at the Royal College of Music) from which Barnard compiled his 'Selected Church Musick' contain an anthem by M. White (Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, p. 1615; Chequebook of the Chapel Royal, Camden Soc. 1872).

William White (fl. 1620), of whom nothing is recorded, has left some anthems in Additional MSS. 29372-7 at the British Museum, and among the choir-books at St. Peter's, Cambridge; and some fancies for instruments in the Bodleian and Christ Church libraries at Oxford, and Additional MSS. 17792-6. One of the 'Songs' by Thomas Tomkins (d. 1656) [q. v.], published about 1623, is dedicated to Will. White. He also has been confused with Robert White.

[Introd. to Arkwright's Old English Edition, xxi, where the wills of Robert and Ellen White are printed; Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, reprint of 1771, pp. 170, 238, 249, 258; Abdy Williams's Musical Degrees, pp. 80, 155; Foster's Alumni Oxon. p. 1614; Burney's General Hist. of Music, iii. 65-71; Ambros's Geschichte der Musik, iii. 459; Rimbault's Early English Organ-builders, pp. 40, 72; Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians,

iii. 273, iv. 452, 817; Nagel's Geschichte der Musik in England, ii. 64-9, 287; Davey's Hist. of English Music, pp. 57, 134, 155, 234, 493; MSS., and Works quoted; information from Mr. Arkwright.]

H. D.