THERE is considerable confusion over the composers Parsons, as two of the same name were practically contemporaneous. However, William Parsons was evidently of a slightly earlier period, as he flourished under Henry VIII and Queen Mary; Robert Parsons did not come into prominence till 1560.
According to the late Professor Wooldridge, in his article on the 'Psalter' in Grove Dictionary, William Parsons was 'an excellent composer', as is evidenced by his admirable setting of tunes in Day Whole Psalmes in foure partes, published in 1563. This rare publication, in four volumes--of which only a few copies can be traced--contains a hundred and forty-one compositions, of which eighty-one are by Parsons, who seems to have been the editor.
Up to the present, however, notwithstanding the admitted excellence of Parsons's compositions, his biography has been a blank. None of our musical historians could penetrate the veil which hid the life-work of this remarkable Tudor composer, and hence the facts now gleaned may prove of interest if not of permanent value.
William Parsons was born about the year 1515, and he seems to have essayed composition as early as 1536. One thing is certain: there is an interesting Latin Motet of his in a Bodleian MS. (Bodl. e. 423) dating from 1537. Another Motet of his, also in Latin, may be dated as from the year 1546, before the death of Henry VIII.
In 1551 Parsons was engaged by the Dean and Chapter of Wells as assistant-choirmaster and copyist. The then Dean was Dr. William Turner, who had been installed vice Dr. John Goodman deprived, and evidently Parsons became an accommodating servant of the 'reformed' Dean. In the Communar's Paper Book of Wells for the year 1551/2 we find that on February 11