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Orlando Gibbons

Orlando Gibbons was one of the most important English composers from the early seventeenth century, with only William Byrd eclipsing him in rank. His church music, exclusively written for the English Church, is among the most popular and enduring in his oeuvre. Notable in this realm are his polyphonic anthems, O clap your hands, Hosanna, and Lift up your head. His two Services are also of great significance: the Short Service is polyphonic and the Second Service is a verse work with organ accompaniment. In the keyboard realm, several of his compositions have been widely declared of such masterful quality as to be unsurpassed by anything until the era of Bach. The Fantasia of Four Parts, from the Parthenia collection, is one such example. His fairly substantial output for keyboard includes many corantos, galliards, pavans, and fantasies. His First Set of Madrigals and Mottets demonstrate his considerable talents in the realm of secular music.

Orlando Gibbons was born in Oxford, probably no more than a week before Christmas, as his baptism took place on December 24, in St. Martin's Church, Oxford. With older siblings who were accomplished musicians, the young Orlando was raised in a musical environment strongly conducive to his burgeoning talents. It is likely that his first music training came from them, perhaps mostly from his brother Edward.

On February 14, 1596, Orlando became a member of the King's College Choir at Cambridge. His brother, Edward, was then master of the choristers there. Orlando served in the choir until the fall of 1598, afterward making periodic appearances there until May 1599. By this time he was known to be composing music.

Earlier that same year he began studies at Cambridge University. In about 1603, Gibbons became a member of the Chapel Royal, and on March 21, 1605, he was appointed its organist. He was already regarded as one of the finest organists in England, and had become a respected composer, though he would not see his first works published for seven more years.

Gibbons graduated from Cambridge in 1606 and that summer married Elizabeth Patten, possibly only about 16 years old. There would be six surviving children from the marriage. The composer wrote a fair amount of music in the 1610s, but much of it would not appear until well after his death. The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets, apt for Viols and Voyces was published in 1612. A year later came the publication of six keyboard works in Parthenia, which was a collective effort in that it also included compositions by Byrd (eight) and Bull (seven). A collection of the composer's anthems appeared in Leighton's Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule of 1614. They include O Lord, I lift my heart to thee and O Lord, in thee is all my trust, both for five voices. On July 19, 1615, the now widely known Gibbons was granted 150 pounds by King James I for his "faythfull service." In 1619, Gibbons was appointed to the royal post of Musician for the Virginals, while retaining his prestigious Chapel Royal post.

A collection of nine three-part works by him, titled Fantasias, was published in 1620. Three years later, Gibbons contributed 16 tunes to George Withers' collection, Hymnes and Songs of the Church. A 17th was added in a later manuscript. Gibbons accepted another post, in 1623, that of organist at Westminster Abbey. Two years later, he died suddenly in Canterbury, apparently of a stroke or related condition.