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TOBIAS HUME  

(1569 - 1645)

Relatively little is known of Tobias Hume. His date of birth has been inferred from his admission, in 1629, as a pensioner, to the Charterhouse, where regulations stipulated that those admitted should have reached the age of sixty, but the inference seems open to question. He published two collections of pieces for viols and songs, The First Part of Ayres in 1605 and Captain Humes Poeticall Musicke in 1607. His dedication of the first of these, to “Lord William, Earle of Pembrooke, L. Herbert of Cardyf, L. Par and Rosse of Kendall, Lord Marmion, and S. Quintin, Lord Warden of the Stannaries, and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter”, tells us something of him: “My Life hath beene a Souldier, and my idleness addicted to Musicke, of both which I here doe offer the service to your best worthy selfe”. His second collection is dedicated to Queen Anne, in an apparently desperate attempt to secure royal favour. The third Earl of Pembroke, identified by some as the Mr. W.H. to whom Shakespeare’s sonnets are dedicated, was an important patron, but seems to have failed to oblige Captain Hume. In 1607 he offers “this last hope of my labours, to your most princely acceptance, humbly imploring that, it would please your thrice-royall spirit, not to esteeme my Songs unmusicall, because my Fortune is out of tune”. This dedication again seems to have had no positive result. From other sources, notably his application in 1611 to King Charles I for permission to engage in a military expedition under the King of Sweden, a request that was denied, it may be gathered that Hume had had varied experience as a soldier, including in the service of the Swedish King, who now asked for his return. The next documentary evidence of his life is found in his application in 1629 to enter the Charterhouse as a ‘poor brother’. In 1642, apparently in some distress, he seeks money from Parliament, describing himself as a colonel and hoping to enter military service again, now, seemingly, nearly seventy, in the expedition to suppress the rebels in Ireland. He died in 1645. It will be gathered that the conjectural date of birth of 1569 offered by some, leads to gross improbabilities. Problems of chronology lie in the fact that by 1605 he had already had experience, seemingly abroad, as a soldier, but then military life could start relatively early.

Hume claims originality in his compositions. He is a particular champion of the viola da gamba over the lute, claiming for the former instrument the possibility of providing polyphony, expression and diminution or variation. The instrument that Hume prefers is the so-called lyra-viol, or, at least, the technique of performing on a bass viol in the lyra-way, as the title of Playford’s 1682 publication suggests: Musick’s Recreation on the Viol, Lyra-way. The lyra-viol itself seems to have been a smaller form of bass viol, with certain other modifications and a wide variety of possible tunings. The instrument or the method of performance, since it seems that music for the lyra-viol could also be played on the bass division viol, won great popularity in England during the seventeenth century. There were experiments at first with the addition of sympathetic strings, but these did not lead to any lasting change in the instrument. If the bow was not used, it was possible to use the lyra-viol as a plucked instrument, and the practice of plucking an open string with the left hand, while bowing with the right, as on the later baryton, was used. Hume’s publication of 1605 is a very early source for the practice of plucking the strings and for the use of the wood of the bow in col legno, although he makes no use of the later practice of the thump, the plucking of a string with the left hand while bowing.

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