Henry Lawes

(1596 - 1662)

Henry Lawes

English composer, brother of William Lawes, son of Thomas Lawes ("The Elder"). He was a child chorister of Salisbury Cathedral 1602-1611, later possibly a pupil of John Cooper (Coperario). Lawes tutored the daughters of the Earl of Bridgewater, to whom he dedicated his first book of Ayres and Dialoguesof 1653, from 1622-26. He was named a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1626, and a member of the King's Musick in 1631, a court post which as a Royalist he lost during the Commonwealth. On the restoration, he was appointed Musician in the Private Musick for the voices (succeeded by Henry Purcell) 1660-62.

Henry Lawes was the most prolific song composer in England at that time (he left over 430 songs), sensitive to the feeling and diction of the poems he set. His best songs were of the serious and declamatory type, in an expressionistic rather than melodious style. His masque music is important; at Milton's request he wrote music for Comus, performed at Ludlow Castle in July 1634; he also acted in it. He wrote music for plays by Herrick and Cartwright, and also two books of psalms for private devotions: A Paraphrase upon the Psalmes of David (1638) and Choice psalms put into musick, for three voices (1648).

Further reading: Ian Spink, Henry Lawes: Cavalier songwriter, Oxford University Press, 2000

A Partial Discography of Henry Lawes  |  IV M: England Through 1635  |  English Lute Composers before 1635 | Guide to English Song in the Elizabethan and Stuart Ages | Catches and Glees