Thomas Morley (1557 - 1602)

Morley contributed significantly to the development of the English madrigal, which was based on Italian models. He was probably a pupil of William Byrd, to whom he dedicated his popular book A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, published in 1597. Morley was employed at St Paul’s in London and became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1592, publishing his first set of part-songs in 1593. He was later involved in printing and publishing music, for which he was granted a share in the monopoly in 1598.

Church Music

Under the influence of Byrd, Morley wrote music for the liturgy of the Church of England, service settings, psalm settings, and a number of Latin motets. Of particular interest is the setting of the De profundis (‘Out of the deep’) as a verse anthem, a peculiarly English form derived from the consort song of the period and involving the contrast of solo voices with the choir, with instrumental accompaniment from the organ or other groups of instruments.


It is as a composer of madrigals that Morley is widely known. The Canzonets, or Little Short Songs to Three Voyces published in 1593 were followed by a collection of four-part madrigals in 1594 and a series of other publications during the decade, some of them adaptations and arrangements of Italian madrigals. In 1601 Morley published the collaborative The Triumphs of Oriana, a tribute to Queen Elizabeth for which he collected madrigals by 23 composers as an offering to the aging Arcadian Queen of the Shepherds. Well-known madrigals by Morley include Aprill is in my mistris face, My bonny lasse shee smyleth, Now is the month of maying, O sleep, fond fancy, Sing wee and chaunt it, Sweet nymphe, come to thy lover and Though Philomela lost hir love. Solo songs by Morley include It was a lover and his lasse, a song that appears in Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy As You Like It.

Keyboard and Other Instrumental Music

Morley added to the contemporary repertoire for the virginals. Keyboard music of this kind includes paired pavans and galliards, song variations, including a set of variations on the popular song Go from my window, and a Passymeasures pavan, a title that recalls the words of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night. Following the custom of the time, Morley also wrote for lute and for various groups of instruments, including arrangements of music by other composers.

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