Peter Philips

(c.1560 - c.1633)

Philips was an English composer and organist who spent most of his working life in the Netherlands, and in consequence was not very well known in his own country.1 He was a Catholic, and as such chose to leave England in 1582 after a tenure as singer at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. From the dedication date of a collection of madrigals by Philips, it is known that he was definitely established at Antwerp in 1590. Subsequently he was found at the English College in Rome where he met the English Catholic landowner Lord Thomas Paget. Philips and Paget traveled throughout Europe together, before settling in Antwerp shortly before Paget's death. There, Philips obtained a position as organist to the chapel of the Archduke Albrect and Isabella of Austria, and met his colleagues John Bull and Pieter Cornet, as well as probably Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. He was also highly regarded as a virginal player and made a living teaching on this instrument.

Philips was one of the most prolific Northern composers of Latin sacred choral music, with a few hundred surviving motets. He also composed music for both instrumental consort and keyboard, many of these pieces surviving in arrangements of both types. These pieces involve the best-known genres of English instrumental music of the time, the fantasia and pavan & galliard. Philips' motets also contain something of the English style in that they are all written with organ accompaniment; his style of vocal composition, however, is more in keeping with the great continental masters of the period, such as Orlandus Lassus. His vocal and instrumental writing is extremely smooth, with well-planned harmonies, and a general lack of contrapuntal artifice. Philips was one of the outstanding vocal composers of his day, publishing motets in German as well as Latin.

Philips' first set of Cantiones Sacrae (a 5)was printed by Phalèse in 1612, followed, in 1613, by a second set for double chorus. Later publications containing sacred works a 2and a 3,as well as some for solo with basso continuo,and a set of Litanies to the Blessed Virgin,a 4to a 9,appeared from 1613 to 1633. Les Rossignols spirituels,an arrangement of popular melodies adapted to sacred texts, was btought out in 1616. As a madrigalist, Philips can hardly be considered a member of the English school, for he wrote to Italian words, and his style is thoroughly Italian. By English standards, he was a fairly prolific composer of madrigals: two setsa 6(1596 and 1603) and onea 8(1598) were published in Antwerp.

Works include: Melodia Olympica (1591); Il primo libro de madrigali a sei voci (1596); Madrigals for 8 voices (1598); Book of madrigals for 6 voices (2nd ed.) (1603); Cantiones sacrae for 5 voices (1612); Cantiones sacrae for 8 voices (1613); Gemmulae Sacrae Binis et Ternis Vocibus cum Basso Continuo Organum (1613); Les Rossignols spirituels ... (1616); Deliciae sacrae binis et ternis vocibus cum basso continuo organum (1616); Litanies to Loreto (1623); Paradisus sacris cantionibus consitus, una, duabus et tribus vocibus decantantis (1628).

A Partial Peter Philips Discography | IV M: England Through 1635  |   The English Madrigalists  |   Index of Madrigal Composers


1. However, Henry Peacham, author of The Compleat Gentlemanof 1622, does say: 'Nor must I here forget our rare countreyman, Peter Philips, one of the greatest Masters of Musicke in Europe.'Return to Text