Peter Philips

English Born 00 1560 Died 00 1628

Peter Philips (c. 1560 – 1628) was an eminent English composer, organist, and Catholic priest exiled to Flanders after the start of the Protestant Reformation. He was one of the greatest keyboard virtuosos of his time, and transcribed or arranged several Italian motets and madrigals by such as Lassus, Palestrina, and Giulio Caccini for his instruments. Some of his keyboard works are found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Philips also wrote many sacred choral works.

Philips was born in 1560 or 1561, possibly in Devonshire or London. From 1572 to 1578 he began his career as a boy chorister at St Paul's Cathedral in London, under the aegis of the Catholic master of choristers, Sebastian Westcote (d. 1582), who had also trained the young William Byrd some twenty years earlier. Philips must have had a close relationship with his master, as he lodged in his house up to the time of Westcote's death, and was a beneficiary of his Will.

In this same year of 1582 Philips left England for good, like so many others for reasons of his Catholicism, and stayed briefly in Flanders before travelling to Rome where he entered the service of Alessandro Cardinal Farnese (1520-1589), with whom he stayed for three years, and was also engaged as organist at the English Jesuit College. It was here that in February 1585 he met a fellow Catholic exile, Thomas, third Baron Paget (c.1544-1590). Philips entered Paget's service as a musician, and the two left Rome in March 1585, travelling over several years to Genoa, Madrid, Paris, Brussels and finally Antwerp, where Paget died in 1590.

Philips settled in Antwerp, where he married, gaining a precarious living by teaching the virginals to children. In 1593 he went to Amsterdam "to sie and heare an excellent man of his faculties", doubtless Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck whose reputation had by then long been made. On his way back, Philips was denounced by a compatriot for complicity in a plot on Queen Elizabeth's life, and he was temporarily imprisoned at the Hague, where he probably composed the pavan and galliard Doloroso (Fitzwilliam Virginal Book nos. LXXX and LXXXI). Philips himself translated the accusations made against him during his trial, revealing that he could by then speak Dutch. He was acquitted and released without further charges.

Philips' fortunes took a turn for the better on his return, and in 1597 he was employed in Brussels as organist to the chapel of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria who had been appointed governor of the Low Countries in 1595. Here, after his wife – and child's – deaths, he became ordained a priest in either 1601 or 1609 – opinions differ; in any case, he received a canonry at Soignies in 1610, and another at Béthune in 1622 or 1623. In his position at court, Philips was able to meet the best musicians of the time, including Girolamo Frescobaldi, who visited the Low Countries in 1607-1608, and his fellow-countryman John Bull, who had fled England on a charge of adultery. His nearest colleague however was Peeter Cornet (c. 1575-1633), organist to Archduchess Isabella, wife of Philips' employer the archduke.

Philips died in 1628, probably in Brussels, where he was buried.

 

Show more