Thomas Robinson (composer)

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Thomas Robinson (c. 1560 – 1610 (Christian calendar)) was an English renaissance composer and music teacher, who flourished around 1600. He taught and wrote music for lute, cittern, orpharion, bandora, viol, and singing.

Renaissance music

Renaissance music is vocal and instrumental music written and performed in Europe during the Renaissance era. Consensus among music historians has been to start the era around 1400, with the end of the medieval era, and to close it around 1600, with the beginning of the Baroque period, therefore commencing the musical Renaissance about a hundred years after the beginning of the Renaissance as it is understood in other disciplines. As in the other arts, the music of the period was significantly influenced by the developments which define the Early Modern period: the rise of humanistic thought; the recovery of the literary and artistic heritage of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome; increased innovation and discovery; the growth of commercial enterprises; the rise of a bourgeois class; and the Protestant Reformation. From this changing society emerged a common, unifying musical language, in particular, the polyphonic style of the Franco-Flemish school, whose greatest master was Josquin des Prez.

Lute musical instrument

A lute is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. More specifically, the term "lute" can refer to an instrument from the family of European lutes. The term also refers generally to any string instrument having the strings running in a plane parallel to the sound table. The strings are attached to pegs or posts at the end of the neck, which have some type of turning mechanism to enable the player to tighten the tension on the string or loosen the tension before playing, so that each string is tuned to a specific pitch. The lute is plucked or strummed with one hand while the other hand "frets" the strings on the neck's fingerboard. By pressing the strings on different places of the fingerboard, the player can shorten or lengthen the part of the string that is vibrating, thus producing higher or lower pitches (notes).

Cittern stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance

The cittern or cithren is a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance. Modern scholars debate its exact history, but it is generally accepted that it is descended from the Medieval citole. It looks much like the modern-day flat-back mandolin and the modern Irish bouzouki, and is descended from the English Guitar. Its flat-back design was simpler and cheaper to construct than the lute. It was also easier to play, smaller, less delicate and more portable. Played by all classes, the cittern was a premier instrument of casual music-making much as is the guitar today.



Very little is known about Robinson's life, but it is possible to draw conclusions from the dedicatory pages of his works. He and his father were in service of the Cecil family: Robinson's father worked for the 1st Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, and Robinson was in the service of the 1st Earl of Exeter, Thomas Cecil, who was Robert Cecil's brother. The Cecil family fostered several artists in these days, amongst others William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.

Preface introduction to a book or other literary work by the author

A preface or proem is an introduction to a book or other literary work written by the work's author. An introductory essay written by a different person is a foreword and precedes an author's preface. The preface often closes with acknowledgments of those who assisted in the literary work.

Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury English Earl

Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, was an English statesman noted for his skillful direction of the government during the Union of the Crowns, as Tudor England gave way to Stuart rule (1603). Salisbury served as the Secretary of State of England (1596–1612) and Lord High Treasurer (1608–1612), succeeding his father as Queen Elizabeth I's Lord Privy Seal and remaining in power during the first nine years of King James I's reign until his death.

Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter English politician and courtier

Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter, KG, known as Lord Burghley from 1598 to 1605, was an English politician, courtier and soldier.

It was before 1589 that Robinson became Princess Anne's (1574–1619) and Queen Sophie's (1557–1631) private music teacher at Elsinore, Denmark. Princess Anne was the daughter of the King of Denmark, Frederick II (1559–1588). It is presumed that Robinson must have been in his twenties then, so that his birth can be dated back to around 1560.

Anne of Denmark Queen consort of James VI of Scots, I of England

Anne of Denmark was Queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland by marriage to King James VI and I.

Frederick II of Denmark King of Denmark and Norway

Frederick II was King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Schleswig from 1559 until his death.

The Court of Denmark, like other courts, employed many well-recognized musicians from Denmark and other countries, like England, France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is known that John Dowland – the most famous Renaissance lutenist nowadays – worked as a court lutenist in Denmark from 1598 to 1606. Besides Robinson's own mention of his employment there, no official record of it exists.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Including three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

John Dowland was an English Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep", "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe" and "In darkness let me dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century's early music revival, has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.

In 1603 Robinson published his first book, Medulla Musicke , of which no copy survived. It was even suggested (Ward JM, see "Literature"), that it was never published at all, although Robinson seems to be referring to it in the first pages of his second book: Right courteous Gentlemen, and gentle Readers, your fauourable acceptance of my first fruits from idlenesse, hath eccited mee further to congratulate your Musicall endeauours. [...]From: "The Schoole of Musicke", 1603

Also in 1603, Robinson brought out his second book, The Schoole of Musicke , a tutor for lute and other instruments. It displaced John Alford's book A Briefe and Easye Instruction from 1574 (an English translation of Adrian Le Roy's Briefve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tabulature ) as the most important lute tutor in England from then on.

John Alford was a lutenist in London. He published there in 1568 a translation of Adrian Le Roy's work on the lute under the title of A Briefe and Easye Instruction to learne the tableture, to conduct and dispose the hande unto the Lute. Englished by J. A., with a cut of the lute. A 1574 edition added additional music. The work was the dominant English lute tutor until Thomas Robinson's The Schoole of Musicke (1603).

Adrian Le Roy French composer and musician

Adrian Le Roy (c.1520–1598) was an influential French music publisher, lutenist, mandore player, guitarist, composer and music educator.

In 1609 Robinson's third book, New Citharen Lessons , was published. It was a cittern tutor for beginners and advanced learners.

Robinson's works for the most part consist of his own compositions. But there are also arrangements of other pieces of music, some of which are still rather popular: for instance "My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home" (in: The Schoole of Musicke) or "Can she excuse my wrongs?" (in New Citharen Lessons) – both originally composed by John Dowland.

There is no further information available about Robinson's life after 1609.


Medulla Musicke

Medulla Musicke (The Stationer's Company, London, 1603) was a music tutor now presumably lost. It is supposed [1] to have included 40 canons on the then popular plainsong Miserere after arrangements by William Byrd and Alfonso Ferrabosco.

The Schoole of Musicke

The Schoole of Musicke, (Tho.[mas(?)] Este, London, 1603), was a tutor for lute, bandora, orpharion, viol, and singing.


  1. The Queenes good Night (for two lutes)
  2. Twenty waies upon the bels (for two lutes)
  3. Row well you Marriners
  4. A Galliard
  5. A Galliard
  6. A Plaine Song for 2 lutes (for two lutes)
  7. Grisse his delight
  8. Passamezzo Galliard (for two lutes)
  9. A Fantasie for 2 lutes (for two lutes)
  10. A Toy for 2 lutes (for two lutes)
  11. A Galliard
  12. Merry Melancholie
  13. Robinson's Riddle
  14. Goe from my Window
  15. A Toy
  16. A Gigue
  17. An Almaigne
  18. An Almaigne
  19. A Toy
  20. A Toy
  21. Robin is to the greenwood gone
  22. A Toy
  23. The Queenes Gigue
  24. Ut re mi fa so la: 9 sundry ways
  25. My Lord Willobies Welcome Home
  26. Bell Vedere
  27. The Spanish Pavin
  28. A Gigue
  29. A Gigue
  30. Walking in a country town
  31. Bony sweet boy
  32. A Gigue
  33. Lantero
  34. Three parts in one upon a[n old]ground
  35. Sweet Jesu who shall lend me wings
  36. A Psalme
  37. O Lord of whom I do depend
  38. O Lord thou art my righteousness

Furthermore, The Schoole of Musicke contains eight short pieces, seven of them called "A Psalme" in the chapter "Rules to instruct you to sing".

New Citharen Lessons

New Citharen Lessons, (London, 1609), was a cittern tutor for beginners and advanced learners. It included 53 compositions, the first 47 for four-course cittern (tuned e' d' g b), pieces 48 to 53 for fourteen-course cittern (tuned e' d' g bb f d G F E D C BBb AA GG).


  1. My Lord Treasurer his Paven
  2. The Galliard to the Pavin before
  3. A Fantasie
  4. Wades Welfare
  5. Powles Carranta
  6. O Cupid looke about thee
  7. For two Citherens in the unison (A Jigge for two Citherens)
  8. A Ground
  9. Pipers Galiard
  10. A Psalme
  11. Philips Pavin
  12. A Galiard
  13. A Galiard: Can she excuse my wrongs
  14. A Galiard
  15. A Psalme
  16. Passamezzo Paven
  17. Oft I have forsworne her company
  18. Galliard to the Quadron Pavin
  19. An Almaine
  20. A French Toy
  21. Excuse me
  22. Robinson Idelsbie
  23. Shepard shoot home
  24. Ioan come kisse me now
  25. A Psalme
  26. Passamezzo Galiard
  27. The new Hunts up
  28. Souches March
  29. Whetelies wheat-sheafe
  30. O Hone
  31. An Almaine
  32. An Almaine
  33. Robinsons modicum
  34. An Almaine
  35. Farewell deare love
  36. Alexander Chezum his Curranta
  37. Robarts Request
  38. The Quadro Pavin
  39. For two Citharens
  40. What if a day
  41. Ah, alas, thou God of Gods
  42. Now Cupid looke about thee
  43. Pauuana Passamezzo
  44. Mr. North his Novell
  45. Fantasia
  46. Fantasia 2
  47. Fantasia 3
  48. Fantasia 4


There are some further pieces and arrangements from Thomas Robinson in other manuscripts:


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  1. William Casey, Alfredo Colman