Anglo-Irish Music in the Sixteenth Century (2)

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XVI (concluded) | Start of chapter

Briefly, William Bathe, the young Irish student at Oxford, was not only the first to print an English treatise on music, but he actually formulated methods of transposition and sight-reading that may still be studied with profit. Davey, in his History of English Music thus writes of Bathe's Brief Introduction: "It is remarkable in its perception of the octave, instead of the hexachord, as the foundation of the scale, and for its rides regarding accidentals. These merits would require fuller notice in a work on general musical history." However, like most other biographers, Davey is in error when he says that "Bathe subsequently became head of the Jesuit College at Salamanca, where he died in 1614."

William Bathe was born in Drumcondra Castle, Dublin, on Easter Sunday, 1564, his parents being John Bathe (appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1579) and Eleanor Preston, daughter of the 3rd Viscount Gormanston, and niece of the Earl of Kildare. He studied "humanity" in Ireland, and evinced a great taste for music, but was always of a religious turn of mind. In 1582, he was sent to Oxford, where he studied for four years, during which, in October, 1584, he was introduced to Queen Elizabeth by Sir John Perrott, Viceroy of Ireland. His earliest biographer, Fr. Paul Sherlock, S.J., tells us that Bathe became a great favourite of the Queen, "whom he delighted by his wonderful skill in playing all kinds of musical instruments, and amused by teaching her mnemonics, whilst his many other brilliant parts won for him universal estimation."

We have the clearest evidence that William Bathe was a prime favourite with Queen Elizabeth, from several entries in the State Papers between the years 1587 and 1591; and the Lord Deputy of Ireland wrote to Burghley that this young gentleman of the Pale was especially known at Court "for his skill in music, and or his late device of the new harp which he presented to Her Majesty."

His father died at the close of July of the year 1586, whose successor, Sir Edward Waterhouse, was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer on October 19th, 1586.

Bathe then returned from Oxford and stayed for some time in Dublin, but again came back to England in the train of his friend, Sir John Perrott, who was recalled in June, 1588. He got livery of his property on September 24th, 1590; but, having made over his inheritance to his brother John, he set sail for Spain, in October, 1591, when he went to Flanders, with a view to entering a religious order.

William Bathe became a Jesuit, at Tournai, on September 21st, 1596, and continued his theological studies at St. Omer's and Padua where he was ordained in 1601. We next find him at Valladolid, and, in 1604, he was made spiritual director of the Irish College at Salamanca. In 1611, he published his Janua Linguarum in Latin and Spanish, which went through an endless number of editions, being issued in eleven languages, of which the English version appeared in 1615. At Salamanca he taught church music and liturgy with conspicuous success for ten years, and, in 1614, he was invited to conduct spiritual exercises at the Court of Madrid. Father Bathe died at Madrid, on June 17th, 1614—one of the most learned men of his day.

In the same year (1584) which is memorable for the printing of Bathe's Brief Introduction was issued A Handful of Pleasant Delites, by Clement Robinson and others, "containing sundrie new sonnets newly devised to the newest tunes." This rare little book has a few Irish tunes, including the familiar "Cailin óg a'-rtiuiré me" under the corrupt anglicised form of "Calen o custure me," quoted by Shakespeare in "Henry V." In Playford's Musical Companion, printed in 1673, this air is set in four parts, and is expressly headed: "An Irish Tune."

On the feast of Corpus Christi, 1598 (as appears from a letter written by Father P. Hamill, on July 12th of that year), Father Henry Fitzsimon, S.J., of Dublin, had a Solemn High Mass celebrated in the house of a nobleman, "with full orchestra, composed of harps, lutes, and all kinds of instruments except the organ"—all the more remarkable as being "the first solemn Mass celebrated, in Dublin, for the last forty years." [9]

The reader can form a good idea of the "full orchestra" of the year 1598, in Ireland, from the constitution of Queen Elizabeth's Band of Musick, in 1588:—16 trumpets, 9 minstrels, 8 viols, 6 sackbuts, lutes, harps, 3 players on the virginals, 2 rebecks, and a bagpipe. It is specially worthy of notice that nearly all the great composers and musicians of this period adhered to the the old faith, e.g., Tallis, Bird, Bevan, Bolt, Phillips, Dering, Johnson, Mundy, Heywood, Morris, Norcome, White, and others.

From 1559 to 1595 the musical services of Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, were utterly neglected, and it was not till 1595 that a salaried lay organist [10]—John Fermor—was appointed to the former church, who was succeeded, in 1609, by Thomas Bateson, Mus.Bac.

Trinity College was opened in 1593, but no degrees in music were conferred till 1610. As is well known, the doors of Dublin University (founded on the site of All Hallows Monastery) were practically closed against Roman Catholics; and the College has ever been a stronghold of the ascendancy faction in Ireland. In the library are preserved two valuable musical manuscripts dating from the last decade of the sixteenth century, namely, Thomas Dallis's Lute Book (cir. 1590), and William Ballet's Lute Book (1594). The latter MS. contains many Irish airs, such as:—"Fortune my foe," "Peg a Ramsey," "Callino Custurame," "Weladay," "Sellenger's Round," "All flowers in broome," "Queen Mary's Dumpe," Dowland's "Lachrymae," "Rogero," etc.

Between 1590 and 1600 modern musical art began to make itself felt in Ireland, and already madrigals, ballets, catches, as also music for the virginals, were beginning to be heard. A new musical era was at hand.



[9] Life and Letters of Father H. Fitzsimon, S.J., p. 207.

[10] Rev. Walter Kennedy acted as organist from 1592 to 1595, as appears from the Calendar of Christ Church Deeds.