Early Tudor Composers: Biographical Sketches of Thirty-Two Musicians and Composers of the Period 1485-1555

By W. Henry Hadow; William H. Grattan Flood | Go to book overview
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XIV. Thomas Ashwell

As a brilliant contemporary of Fayrfax it is surprising that the work of Thomas Ashwell has not received adequate recognition long ere this. Notwithstanding the destruction of manuscripts at the period of the so-called Reformation, quite a respectable number of Masses, Motets, songs, &c., by Ashwell may be cited as proof of his powers. In particular, he was one of the first-- if not actually the first--among English composers to give us a setting of the 'Stabat Mater'. Of course, we know that Fayrfax did compose a setting of this beautiful Sequence, which was formerly included in the well-known Eton MS.; but, alas! the pages containing it are long since missing. On this account, Ashwell's setting is of unique interest. There are settings of the 'Stabat Mater' by Davy and Browne complete in the Eton MS., and a setting by Cornish.

Yet another claim to fame may be put forward in the case of Thomas Ashwell, namely, that he composed a royal anthem, 'God save King Herry', which may be regarded as the precursor of the present National Anthem. The date of this English Anthem--composed for the marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York--can be fixed with tolerable certainty, for the nuptials took place on January 17, 1485/6. And a third claim to notoriety is the inclusion of a song by Ashwell in Wynkyn de Worde's printed Song Book of 1530, in which he is represented by a four- part setting of 'She may be called a soverant lady'. Yet the strange circumstance is that no memoir of this remarkable musician has yet appeared, nor have any facts of his career been hitherto published. All that has emerged is that Ashwell lived 'between the years 1485 and 1510', and that he is included by Morley in his list of famous English musicians of the early sixteenth century.

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