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8.553874 - HOLBORNE / ROBINSON: Pavans and Galliards

Antony Holborne (fl

Antony Holborne (fl. ?1584 - 1602)

Thomas Robinson (fl. 1584 - 1602)

Pavans and Galliards for one and two lutes


Holborne and Robinson were two lutenist-composers working during the closing years of Elizabethan England and writing in the tuneful, approachable style of John Dowland. 56 lute pieces by Holborne have survived (exceeded in England only by Dowland with about a hundred), and 39 by Robinson. Neither were lutenists to royalty, to which all musicians aspired because of the implied security of employment for life, but both found other ways to benefit from the honey-pot of royal patronage.


Antony Holborne was described as "Gentleman Usher to Elizabeth, late Queene of England". He would have been responsible for controlling access to the Queen's Presence or Privy Chamber, so would have been acquainted with all royal musicians and courtiers. Dowland thought sufficiently highly of him to dedicate one song in 1600 to "the most famous, Anthony Holborne", and Thomas Morley was flattered to receive for his Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke, printed 1597, a dedicatory poem by Holborne. Holborne also wrote a Latin dedicatory poem for Farnaby's Canzonets of 1598, and frequently gave his pieces epigrammatic or Latin titles in the manner of imprese or mottoes. He used his own personal impresa ni merear moriar (if I were not worthy I should die) in both his publications - The Cittharn Schoole of 1597, and Pavans, Galliardsin Five Parts, 1599. As well as employment at court, we also have records of his being paid a number of times for delivering privy council letters to the government ambassador in the Netherlands. It was as a result of one of these assignments that his wife reported to Cecil that he "tooke such a coulde, that I feare wilbe his lyves losse". He died the next day, in November 1602. His lute solos were mostly written in the dance forms of elaborate divisions.


Thomas Robinson seems to have concentrated on teaching, rather than performing on plucked string instruments. Like Holborne, as well as the lute he played its wire-strung siblings, the bandora and cittern. His two surviving publications are both do-it-yourself tutors, one principally for the lute and the other for the cittern. He taught the future Queen Anne to play the lute in Denmark before she married King James, to whom he dedicated his lute tutor in 1603. The first piece in the book is a duet for teacher and pupil, an encouraging method still used for many instruments today, but this particular duet, The Queen's Good Night, requires considerable rhythmic control in the last division, as you will hear, when the pupil's treble has to maintain 9/8 against the teacher's accompaniment of even quavers in 3/4. Robinson wrote two types of duet' treble and ground (as in Twenty Ways upon the Bells) in which each player maintains either the tune or the accompaniment; and 'equal ' duets, where the players exchange function at the end of every strain. The music of this second type is printed with the parts facing each other, as do the players. We can see in our mind's eye the original scene with the couple conversing musically with no need of an audience, which was neither expected nor required. Robinson developed an individual style of writing, in which he was one of the first to exploit the lute's idiomatic style brise, in which the lutenist arpeggiates chords, as you can hear in the Galliard. Divisions on popular tunes were also favoured by Robinson, here represented by Go From My Window, one of the many simple but catchy late Elizabethan anonymous tunes for which the original ballad text is now lost.


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