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Thomas Tomkins

Thomas Tomkins (1572 – 9 June 1656) was a Welsh-born composer of the late Tudor and early Stuart period. In addition to being one of the prominent members of the English Madrigal School, he was a skilled composer of keyboard and consort music, and the last member of the English virginalist school.

omkins was born in St David's in Pembrokeshire in 1572. His father, also Thomas, who had moved there in 1565 from the family home of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, was a vicar choral of St David's Cathedral and organist there. Three of Thomas junior's half-brothers, John, Giles and Robert, also became eminent musicians, but none quite attained the fame of Thomas. By 1594, but possibly as early as 1586, Thomas and his family had moved to Gloucester, where his father was employed as a minor canon at the cathedral. Thomas almost certainly studied under William Byrd for a time, for one of his songs bears the inscription: To my ancient, and much reverenced Master, William Byrd, and it may have been at this period of his career, since Byrd leased property at Longney, near Gloucester. Although documentary proof is lacking, it is also possible that Byrd was instrumental in finding young Thomas a place as chorister in the Chapel Royal. In any case, all former Chapel Royal choristers were required to be found a place at university, and in 1607 Tomkins was admitted to the degree of B.Mus. as a member of Magdalen College, Oxford.

In 1612 Tomkins oversaw the construction in Worcester cathedral of a magnificent new organ by Thomas Dallam, the foremost organ-builder of the day. He continued writing verse anthems, and his collection of 28 madrigals, the Songs of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts was finally published in 1622 with a dedicatory poem by his half-brother John Tomkins (circa 1587–1638), now organist of King's College, Cambridge (later of St Paul's and of the Chapel Royal), with whom Thomas maintained an intimate and loving relationship.

In 1628 Tomkins was named "Composer of [the King's] Music in ordinary" at an annual salary of £40, succeeding Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger who died in March that year. But this prestigious post, the highest honour available to an English musician, was quickly revoked on the grounds that it had been promised to Ferrabosco's son. This shabby treatment was to be only the first of a series of adversities that overtook the composer for the last fourteen years of his life. He continued, however, to perform his dual duties at Worcester and London until 1639.

In 1646 Tomkins turned his genius to the composition of some of his finest keyboard and consort music; in 1647, he wrote a belated tombeau or tribute to Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, and a further one to the memory of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, both beheaded in 1641, and both admired by Tomkins. Charles I was executed in 1649, and a few days later Tomkins, always a royalist, composed his superb Sad Pavan: for these distracted times. His second wife Martha died around 1653, and deprived of his living, Tomkins, now 81, was in serious financial difficulties. In 1654 his son Nathaniel married Isabella Folliott, a wealthy widow, and Thomas went to live with them in Martin Hussingtree, some four miles from Worcester. He expressed his gratitude by composing his Galliard, The Lady Folliot's in her honour. Two years later he died and was buried in the churchyard of Martin Hussingtree on 9 June 1656.

 



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