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   Chapter 1 JOHN BULL.

Twelve Good Musicians By Frederick Bridge Characters: 11714

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:05

1563 (?)-1628.

There is, I venture to think, a fitness in the choice of the first musician of the Twelve to be considered. John Bull is a name familiar to Englishmen, though I do not know that the musician bearing that name has anything to do with the historical and political personage whose jovial portrait is so well known to us. But Dr. John Bull, was the first to hold anything like a University Professorship in London-or indeed in England. It is true Gresham College has not developed into a University, but its founder, Sir Thomas Gresham, certainly seems to have had such an end in view, and John Bull was the first Gresham Music Lecturer. As his successor at Gresham College, and as I have the honour to be the first Musical Professor in the University of London, I think there is a justification for beginning this course in the University with a consideration of the old Gresham Professor. I must premise that in selecting twelve good men I have by no means exhausted the number of such men available, but I hope to have chosen good representatives of the various Schools and movements in the musical world of England in the 17th century. And, although necessarily concentrating my attention on the selected twelve, yet, of course, undoubtedly I shall make many references to their fellow-musicians both in this country and abroad. But it is to our own men and our own music in the 17th century that I shall direct my chief attention.

To begin then with the first of my twelve good musicians-the first Gresham Professor of Music, Dr. John Bull. Born about 1563 of a Somersetshire family, he became one of the Children of the Chapel Royal (as will be seen, always a great nursery of young English Musicians), his master being Blytheman who, we are told, "spared neither time nor labour to advance his natural gifts."

Organist of Hereford Cathedral for a time, we find him in 1585 a member of the Chapel Royal Choir-not then organist, a post to which he attained a few years later, succeeding his old master, Blytheman. He was evidently determined to get on in his profession, for, besides all these posts and varied activities, he found time in 1586 to take the degree of Bachelor of Music at Oxford (it being stated he had "practised the faculty of music for 14 years"), following this up with a Doctor's degree-this time at Cambridge.

He appears to have met with a somewhat serious adventure at Tewkesbury, in 1592, "being robbed in those parts." A Mr. W. Chelps, of Tewkesbury showed him "rare kindness" and was rewarded, no doubt by Bull's influence, with the post of a Gentleman Extraordinary in the Chapel Royal.

In 1592 our indefatigable musician took another degree, that of Doctor of Music at Oxford, the delay in taking it having been caused, according to a contemporary writer, by his having met with "rigid puritans there, that could not endure Church Music."

The next important step in his varied career was his appointment as first Gresham Professor of Music. His lectures should have been given in Latin, but he was allowed to deliver them in English. Unfortunately there is no copy of his lectures to be found, but Mr. Barclay Squire in an article on Bull in the Dictionary of National Biography, gives the following title-page of the first lecture which is all that survives of it:

"The oration of Master John Bull, Doctor of Music and one of the Gentlemen of his Majestie's Royal Chapel, as he pronounced the same before divers worshipful persons the Aldermen and Commoners of the Citie of London, with a great multitude of other people the 6th day of October 1597, in the new erected College of Sir Thomas Gresham, Knight, deceased: made in the Commemoration of the said worthy Founder, and the excellent Science of Musicke. (Imprinted at London by Thomas Este)."

Although a great misfortune that the Lecture itself is not to be found; it is interesting to learn the subject of the oration from the title-page.

It would, however, have been more interesting to read the lecture itself, if only to see what Bull said about Sir Thomas Gresham and to know his views upon music in general. Of one thing we may be certain: he must have given his audience a real treat by his Clavier performance; for doubtless he obeyed the directions given in the Founder's will-directions which are observed to this day. It was wise on the part of Gresham to insist that the lectures should be adequately illustrated: an audience gains much from hearing the examples which have been commented upon by the lecturer. The directions are:

"The solemn music lectures twice every week, in manner following, viz: the theoretique part for one half hour or thereabouts, and the practique by concert of voice or instruments for the rest of the hour."

Bull has been credited with the composition of our National Anthem. The matter has been investigated by many, but, so far, there seems no proof of it. We know, however, that he was honoured by King James I, as his name was amongst those to whom were given "gold chains, plates, or medals."

He appears to have been admitted into the freedom of the Merchant Taylors' Company in 1606, and in 1607 he played before the King and Prince Henry when they dined at Merchant Taylors' Hall. According to Stowe, "John Bull, Doctor of Music, one of the Organists of His Majestie's Chapel Royal and free of the Merchant Taylors', being in a citizen's goune, cappe and hood, played most excellent melodie upon a small payre of Organs placed there for that purpose only."

The Musical arrangements for this great City Company's feast were on a very elaborate scale. Besides Bull's performance (which was apparently for the King only, who dined alone in a separate chamber "where Dr. Bull did play all dinner time"), the Singing Men and Children of the Royal Chapel sang melodious songs

, and some of the best singers of the day sang songs by Coperario, from a ship which was suspended in the great Hall. Besides all this the Choir of St Paul's sang songs, the words of which were by Ben Jonson. The King must have had a pretty good programme of music to listen to, unless he spent the evening in his own room where he dined alone-with Dr Bull playing to pass the time.

The numerous singers in the great Hall seem to have been rather a trouble to the givers of the feast. Bull and Gyles, the master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, who performed in the King's chamber, were rewarded the next day by being admitted into the livery of the Company as a recognition of their services at the entertainment, which are stated to have been "gratis, whereas the musicians in the greate Hall exacted unreasonable somes of the Company for the same."

During an absence abroad in 1601 his deputy at Gresham College was Thomas Byrd, son of the composer W. Byrd. Bull's fame had so spread that he had many tempting offers to attach himself to the "French and Spanish Courts," but he obeyed Queen Elizabeth's order to return to England.

In 1607, on account of a desire to marry, he relinquished the Gresham post, celibacy being one of the conditions of the appointment. The lady of his choice was "Elizabeth Walter of the Strand, maiden, aged about 24, daughter of Walter, citizen of London."

Nothing much is chronicled of him for the next four years, but in 1611 his name heads the list of the Prince of Wales' musicians at a salary of £40 a year, and another mention is made of him in connection with Princess Elizabeth's marriage, on which occasion (Feb. 14th, 1613) a benediction, God the Father, God the Son, was sung to an anthem "made new for that purpose by Dr. Bull."

We now come to the mysterious portion of Bull's life which culminated in his flight from England. The first hint is suggested by the following letter from Bull to Sir M. Hicks, secretary to the Earl of Salisbury:


I have bin many times to have spoken with you, to desire your favor to my Lord and Mr. Chancellor, to graunte me theire favors to chaunge my name, and put in my childes, leaving out my owne. It is but £40 by yeare for my service heretofore, the matter is not great, yet it will be some reliefe for my poor childe, having nothing ells to leave it."

The letter proceeds to mention some others whose interest had been moved, and is written in a tone of great humiliation. Was it an instance of coming events casting their shadows before? The following entry in the Chapel Royal cheque-book rather supports the supposition:

"John Bull, Doctor of Music, went beyond the seas without licence, and was admitted into the Archduke's Service, and entered into paie there about Michaelmas."

Peter Hopkins filled his place, and his quarter's salary, Michaelmas to Christmas, was divided amongst members of the Royal Chapel.

His departure created some sensation, as it is said he "was so much admired for his dexterous hand on the Organ, that many thought there was more than man in him." Wood puts it down to his "being possessed with crotchets, as many musicians are." A letter, however, from the British Minister at Brussels to King James I, puts a rather different complexion on it. It would appear that the Minister had been charged by James I, to express his displeasure at the Archduke's want of courtesy in engaging Bull, and in the letter announcing the fulfilment of his mission the Minister says:

"And I told him plainly, that it was notorious to all the world, the said Bull did not leave your Majesty's Service for any wrong done unto him or for matter of Religion, under which fained pretext he sought to wrong the reputation of your Majesty's justice, but did in that dishonest manner steal out of England through the guilt of a corrupt conscience to escape punishment which notoriously he had deserved and was designed to have been inflicted on him by the hand of justice for his ..... grievous crimes."

It will be noticed the writer scoffs at Bull's religious sensitiveness, but there is no doubt he was, like Byrd, a Papist at heart.

In 1617 he succeeded Waelrant at Antwerp Cathedral, dying in that city on the 12th or 13th of March, 1628, and being buried in the Cathedral.

Bull was evidently well thought of by his Antwerp friends, and Sweelinck, the great Dutch organist, included a Canon by Bull in his work on Composition. Bull returned the compliment by writing a Fantasia on a Fugue by Sweelinck.

Bull is most favourably known as a composer for the Virginals. Many fine examples are to be found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and his powers as performer must have been very great, judging from his compositions. He joined Byrd and Gibbons in contributing to the celebrated collection Parthenia ("the first music for the Virginals ever published in England.") There are examples of his Church Music in Boyce's Cathedral Music (1760), but, like many other specimens contained in that valuable and well-known collection, these compositions of Bull do not seem to me to be the best examples of his powers. A really beautiful little motet contained in Sir William Leighton's Teares and Lamentations of a Sorrowful Soule (1614) entitled In the Departure of the Lord gives me a very high opinion of his Church Music. It is for four voices and full of beautiful harmony and expressive modulation. Indeed, I think it compares favourably with much of the kind written by contemporary musicians.

I hope to be able to edit it, with other specimens of Bull's sacred music, in the early future.

A portrait exists in the University of Oxford, and round it is written

"The Bull by force in field doth rayne

But Bull by skill good-will doth gaine."

A copy of this portrait is prefixed to this book.

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