Thomas Whythorne

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Thomas Whythorne

Thomas Whythorne (1528–1595) was an English composer who wrote what some consider to be the earliest known surviving autobiography in English.

English people Nation and ethnic group native to England

The English people are a nation and an ethnic group native to England who speak the English language. The English identity is of early medieval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Angelcynn. Their ethnonym is derived from the Angles, one of the Germanic peoples who migrated to Great Britain around the 5th century AD. England is one of the countries of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living there are British citizens.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

Autobiography account of the life of a person, written by that person

An autobiography is a self-written account of the life of oneself. The word "autobiography" was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical The Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as "pedantic". However, its next recorded use was in its present sense, by Robert Southey in 1809. Despite only being named early in the nineteenth century, first-person autobiographical writing originates in antiquity. Roy Pascal differentiates autobiography from the periodic self-reflective mode of journal or diary writing by noting that "[autobiography] is a review of a life from a particular moment in time, while the diary, however reflective it may be, moves through a series of moments in time". Autobiography thus takes stock of the autobiographer's life from the moment of composition. While biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints, autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. The memoir form is closely associated with autobiography but it tends, as Pascal claims, to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer's review of his or her life.


Early life and education

Born in Somerset (Whythorne was a Somerset spelling of the surname "Whitehorn") [1] to a wealthy family, Whythorne attended and matriculated from Magdalen College School, Oxford. [2] He did not inherit enough to live a life of leisure however and so found employment as a music tutor to various members of the gentry.

Somerset County of England

Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.

Magdalen College School, Oxford independent boys school in Oxford, England

Magdalen College School (MCS) is an independent day school for boys aged 7 to 18 and girls in the sixth form, in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. It was founded as part of Magdalen College, Oxford, by William Waynflete in 1480.

Career as musician

Chafing against his treatment by some employers as a mere servant (whom he considered below him due to his background and education), Whythorne searched for a patron to allow him to concentrate on composing. His musical manuscripts indicate that near the end of his life he found a patron in Francis Hastings, but little is known of this relationship despite Whythorne's lengthy preface.

Francis Hastings (died 1610) English Puritan politician

Sir Francis Hastings (c. 1546–1610) was an English Puritan politician. Hastings was a skilful parliamentarian, and excellent committee man, and schooled in the importance of religion in political discourse. A published author, highly intelligent, Hastings showed he was a dutiful, and obedient servant of the Crown. Opinionated, dogmatic and determined, Hastings could oppose as a matter of principle, but would never betray the monarch. Hastings was a prolific and hard-working MP requested for many offices, and never out of favour. Despite being from a noble family he thrived on the cut and thrust of Commons procedure; perspicacious, insightful he tried to achieve a balance of power.

Whythorne traveled widely throughout Europe and spent six months in Italy, learning its language and music. Whythorne returned to England in 1555, impressed by the continental respect for music and musicians that was absent in England. He later railed against the "blockheads and dolts" of England who failed to appreciate music. Whythorne wrote a book of his travels in Italy, no copy of which survives. [3]

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern and Western Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Upon his return to England, Whythorne served as a music tutor in Cambridge and London, where he survived a Bubonic plague outbreak in 1563 that killed members of his household. In 1571, he was appointed master of music at the Chapel of Archbishop Parker and published seventy-six Songes for Three, Fower, and Five voyces, the only English secular music known to have been published between 1530 and 1588. [2] Another mentionable work, composed in 1590, is Whythorne's Duos or Songs for Two Voices.

Cambridge City and non-metropolitan district in England

Cambridge is a university city and the county town of Cambridgeshire, England, on the River Cam approximately 50 miles (80 km) north of London. At the United Kingdom Census 2011, its population was 123,867 including 24,506 students. Cambridge became an important trading centre during the Roman and Viking ages, and there is archaeological evidence of settlement in the area as early as the Bronze Age. The first town charters were granted in the 12th century, although modern city status was not officially conferred until 1951.

Bubonic plague Human and animal disease

Bubonic plague is one of three types of plague caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis. One to seven days after exposure to the bacteria, flu-like symptoms develop. These symptoms include fever, headaches, and vomiting. Swollen and painful lymph nodes occur in the area closest to where the bacteria entered the skin. Occasionally, the swollen lymph nodes may break open.


Frontispiece to his Duos or Songs for Two Voices (published 1590). A portrait of the composer suggests this engraving is a good likeness of the composer. Thomas Whythorne Duos frontispiece.png
Frontispiece to his Duos or Songs for Two Voices (published 1590). A portrait of the composer suggests this engraving is a good likeness of the composer.

Around 1576 Whythorne collected his songs and poetry and linked them with autobiographical passages about his life and the situations which had led him to write each of the songs. The resulting book, entitled booke of songs and sonetts with longe discourses sett with them, is said to be earliest surviving English autobiography and one of the songs included, "Buy New Broom", is considered the earliest written example of music for voice with instrumental accompaniment.[ citation needed ]

In addition to its musical importance, Whythorne's autobiography reveals much about sixteenth-century social customs and habits. On widows, for example, Whythorne writes "He that wooeth a widow must not carry quick eels in his codpiece" and "He who weddeth a widow who hath two children, he shall be cumbered with three thieves."


Whythorne remained unknown until 1925 when the composer Peter Warlock published a study entitled Thomas Whythorne, An Unknown Elizabethan Composer. [1] A manuscript of Whythorne's autobiography was rediscovered in 1955 in a box of papers from the home of Major Foley of Hereford and now resides in the Bodleian Library, [4] while The Autobiography of Thomas Whythorne was published twice by Oxford University Press, first in 1961 in the author's phonetic spelling and then in modern spelling in 1962. [4]

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  1. 1 2 Fenton, J. "Matters of love", The Guardian, 29 April 2006, Accessed 30 April 2006.
  2. 1 2 Whent, C. "Thomas Whythorne" Here on a Sunday Morning. Accessed 12 July 2006.
  3. Chaney, E. (1998) The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations Since the Renaissance, Frank Cass Publishers, London. ISBN   0-7146-4577-X.
  4. 1 2 Carpenter, N. "Reviewed work(s): The Autobiography of Thomas Whythorne by Thomas Whythorne; James M. Osborn", Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1962, p. 220.

Scores (sheet music)