Henry VIII


The pleasure-seeking King of England with six wives was also a patron of music, and a composer. He appears to have played the organ, lute and virginals, and composed masses (which are lost) and other sacred works. The only surviving sacred piece is a three-part motet Quam pulchra es, but other secular pieces exist, including the fine un-texted song Taunder naken. Contrary to popular myth, Henry VIII probably did not compose the popular tune Greensleeves.

Henry was born in Greenwich on 28 June 1491 and ascended to the throne in 1509. His education included musical instruction and when he became King, music occupied a prominent place in courtly life. Heard at ceremonies, banquets, processions, music also served to entertain the King personally. In July 1517, he is known to have listened for four hours to the playing of Dionisio Memo, the organist at St Mark's, Venice.

Many of Henry's compositions were influenced by continental music: Helas madam, for example is based on a continental melody. Although some of Henry's music survives only because he was King, some of the English songs, such as Pastyme with good companye  and Grene growith the holy, possess a noble beauty.

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