Title page of Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke
Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558 – October 1602) was an English composer, theorist, editor and organist of the Renaissance, and the foremost member of the English Madrigal School. He was the most famous composer of secular music in Elizabethan England and an organist at St Paul's Cathedral. He and Robert Johnson are the composers of the only surviving contemporary settings of verse by Shakespeare.
Morley was born in Norwich, in East Anglia, the son of a brewer. Most likely he was a singer in the local cathedral from his boyhood, and he became master of choristers there in 1583. However, Morley evidently spent some time away from East Anglia, for he later referred to the great Elizabethan composer of sacred music, William Byrd, as his teacher; while the dates he studied with Byrd are not known, they were most likely in the early 1570s. In 1588 he received his bachelor's degree from Oxford, and shortly thereafter was employed as organist at St. Paul's in London. His young son died the following year in 1589.
In 1588 Nicholas Yonge published his Musica transalpina, the collection of Italian madrigals fitted with English texts, which touched off the explosive and colorful vogue for madrigal composition in England. Morley evidently found his compositional direction at this time, and shortly afterwards began publishing his own collections of madrigals (11 in all).
Morley lived for a time in the same parish as Shakespeare, and a connection between the two has been long speculated, though never proven. His famous setting of "It was a lover and his lass" from As You Like It has never been established as having been used in a performance of Shakespeare's play, though the possibility that it was is obvious. Morley was highly placed by the mid-1590s and would have had easy access to the theatrical community; certainly there was then, as there is now, a close connection between prominent actors and musicians.
While Morley attempted to imitate the spirit of Byrd in some of his early sacred works, it was in the form of the madrigal that he made his principal contribution to music history. His work in the genre has remained in the repertory to the present day, and shows a wider variety of emotional color, form and technique than anything by other composers of the period. Usually his madrigals are light, quick-moving and easily singable, like his well-known "Now is the Month of Maying"; he took the aspects of Italian style that suited his personality and anglicised them. Other composers of the English Madrigal School, for instance Thomas Weelkes and John Wilbye, were to write madrigals in a more serious or sombre vein.
In addition to his madrigals, Morley wrote instrumental music, including keyboard music (some of which has been preserved in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), and music for the broken consort, a uniquely English ensemble of two viols, flute, lute, cittern and bandora, notably as published by William Barley in 1599 in The First Booke of Consort Lessons, made by diuers exquisite Authors, for six Instruments to play together, the Treble Lute, the Pandora, the Cittern, the Base-Violl, the Flute & Treble-Violl.
Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (published 1597) remained popular for almost two hundred years after its author's death, and remains an important reference for information about sixteenth century composition and performance.
Thomas Morley's compositions include (in alphabetical order):
- April is in my mistress' face
- Arise, get up my deere,
- Cease mine eyes
- Crewell you pull away to soone
- Doe you not know?
- Fantasie: Il Doloroso
- Fantasie: Il Grillo
- Fantasie: Il Lamento
- Fantasie: La Caccia
- Fantasie: La Rondinella
- Fantasie: La Sampogna
- Fantasie: La Sirena
- Fantasie: La Tortorella
- Fire Fire My Heart
- Flora wilt thou torment mee
- Fyre and Lightning
- Goe yee my canzonets
- Good Morrow, Fair Ladies of the May
- Harke Alleluia!
- Hould out my hart
- I goe before my darling
- I should for griefe and anguish
- In nets of golden wyers
- It was a lover and his lass
- Joy, joy doth so arise
- La Girandola
- Ladie, those eies
- Lady if I through griefe
- Leave now mine eyes
- Lo heere another love
- Love learns by laughing
- Miraculous loves wounding
- My bonny lass she smileth
- Nolo Mortem Peccatoris
- Now is the month of maying
- O thou that art so cruell
- Say deere, will you not have mee?
- See, see, myne own sweet jewel
- Sing we and chant it
- Sweet nymph
- 'Tis the time of Yuletide Glee
- VI. God morrow, Fayre Ladies, (down a fourth)
- What ayles my darling?
- When loe by break of morning
- Where art thou wanton?
References and further reading
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
- Article "Thomas Morley" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
- The University of Reading Library featuring: Thomas Morley, A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke. London, 1597 
- Philip Ledger (ed) The Oxford Book of English Madrigals OUP 1978
- The Madrigal, Jerome Roche, 1972. ISBN 0-09-113260-6