John Jenkins


English composer. He was a major exponent of the English seventeenth century viol fantasia. Little is known of his early years, other than that his father Henry Jenkins, a Maidstone carpenter who perhaps made instruments, bequeathed a bandora to him in 1617; the inventory taken after Henry's death recorded "Seven Vialls and Violyns, one Bandora and a Cytherne." He may have been the "Jack Jenkins" in the household of Anne, Countess of Warwicke, in 1603; assuming that he showed musical promise as a child, he could possibly have been placed as an apprentice to a resident musician in a stately home.

He appears, in fact, to have achieved early renown as a lutenist and violist and North records that he "once was brought to play . . . afore King Charles I as one that performed somewhat extraordinary."

The first certain identification of him is as one of the instrumentalists participating in Shirley's extravagant Inns of Court masque The Triumph of Peace in 1633. The advent of strife, however, drove him, like others of his kind, into the country. By the 1640s he was in Norfolk, sharing his time between the Dereham family of Norfolk and the L'Estrange family of Hunstanton, but he probably never had official ties to those Royalist houses. He seems to have moved among several houses during the Commonwealth, visiting that of Lord Dudley North from the late 1650s and serving as tutor there to Roger and Montagu. Roger North's writings supply much information about Jenkins, who was named theorbo player in the King's Musick in 1660, but probably spent little time at court. Roger North records that:

tho' he for many years was uncapable to attend, the court musicians had so much value for him, that advantage was not taken, but he received his salary as they were pay'd

He passed his final years in semi-retirement at the home of Sir Philip Wodehouse in Norfolk. His grave in Kimberly church, Norfolk, bears a little verse that ends:

Ag'd eighty-six: October twenty sev'n
In Anno sev'nty eight he went to Heav'n

Jenkins was the supreme composer of music for the viols. He grew up when the music of Byrd and his contemporaries was in full flower and he continued until the emergence of Purcell in the 1670s. He came to maturity as a composer in the 1620s, following in the footsteps of the generation that had developed the consort fantasia for viols, in particular Alfonso Ferrabosco II, Thomas Lupo, John Coprario and Orlando Gibbons. Although never a daring pioneer like his great friend William Lawes or, later, Matthew Locke, he nevertheless kept sufficiently abreast of new developments to contribute substantially to many of them as they materialized. Through his exceptional lyrical gifts, a capacity for large-scale planning and a special and remarkably mature handing of key-relationships, he brought new beauties to the genre.

Jenkins also wrote vocal music, both sacred and secular, published inter aliain Playford's Select Ayres and Dialogues,starting with the 1653 edition, and his The Musical Companion.

A Partial John Jenkins Discography |  Guide to English Consort Music Through 1635 |  IV M: England Through 1635 | English Lute Composers before 1635   | Catches and Glees  |  Guide to English Song in the Elizabethan and Stuart Ages