1647 London City of London Greater London, England
Jul. 14, 1674 Windsor Windsor and Maidenhead Royal Borough Berkshire, England
Composer. A leading musician of England's Restoration period. Although he died at the age of 27, he did much to establish Baroque music in his country. Humfrey was born in London. In 1660 he joined the revived Chapel Royal as a chorister and lute player under Henry Cooke, who encouraged his precocious efforts at composition. By age 17 five of his church anthems had been published, one of which, a setting of Psalm 51 (1663), was praised by Samuel Pepys in his diary. Charles II sponsored him on a three-year study course (1664 to 1667) with Jean-Baptiste Lully in Paris and Giacomo Carissimi in Rome, appointing him Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and court lutenist during his absence. Some of Humfrey's continental choral pieces were performed as soon as he returned to London, cementing his reputation as the King's favorite. Not surprisingly he developed a cocky attitude. Pepys met him several times, noting he "disparages everything, and everybody's skill but his own...without question he is a good musician, but his vanity do offend me". His chief ambition was to replace the Spanish-born, French-trained Louis Grabu as Master of the King's Musick. He came close. In 1672 he succeeded Cooke as Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal and that same year was named a composer for the King's Private Music; in addition to these posts he had to select boys for the choir, train them in lute, violin, and composition, and oversee their education and welfare. His greatest student was Henry Purcell. Overwork probably hastened his premature end - by late 1673 Humfrey was in the grip of a chronic illness. He sought assistance for his duties and in April 1674 he made out his will. His powerful setting of Psalm 22 as the anthem "O Lord my God" (1674) can only have had an autobiographical impulse: "My God, look upon me, why hast thou forsaken me, and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?" That summer he managed to accompany Charles to Windsor Castle but died there on July 14. He was buried in the East Cloister of Westminster Abbey. Soon afterwards Grabu was removed as Master of the King's Musick because of a new law barring Catholics from court; the position Humfrey coveted and narrowly missed was given to Richard Staggins, a hack courtier rather than a skilled musician. A musicologist visiting Humfrey's tomb in the mid-18th Century saw that the inscriptions were no longer legible and his epitaph survives only because it was documented in a 1682 anthology. Humfrey's importance lies in his forging French and Italian elements into a characteristically English Baroque style. It influenced his colleagues John Blow, Michael Wise and William Turner, as well the next generation of British composers, headed by Purcell. This is most apparent in his 19 surviving verse anthems, which show he learned much from Lully's operas. He introduced dramatic solo recitatives into the chorus, prefaced the anthems with instrumental overtures, and scored them for chamber ensemble, reducing the traditional organ accompaniment to a basso continuo function. William Boyce, who gathered seven of Humfrey's anthems in the seminal collection "Cathedral Music" (1778), wrote that he was "the first of our ecclesiastical composers who had [an] idea of musical pathos in the expression of words". They include "By the Waters of Babylon", "Lift Up Your Heads", "Hear, O Heavens", and "Like as the Hart". Other works are a "Magnificat", three Anglican services, three court odes, and about 30 songs, two of which ("The Phoenix" and "I Pass the Hours") had lyrics by Charles II himself. His "Grand Chant in C" is among the most durable of Anglican chants, a two-note melody adapted to the Psalms for congregational singing. In his last months Humfrey provided some incidental numbers to Thomas Shadwell's adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (1674). His sure theatrical flair makes it regrettable that he produced nothing more substantial for the stage; had he lived he might have composed the first great English opera. That would be left to Purcell with "Dido and Aeneas" (1688). (bio by: Bobb Edwards)
Inscription: "Here lieth interred the body of Mr. Pelham Humphrey, who died the fourteenth of July, Anno Dom. 1674, and in the twenty-seventh year of his age"
Burial: Westminster Abbey Westminster City of Westminster Greater London, England Plot: East Cloister, near the southeast door to the Abbey
Maintained by: Find A Grave Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards Record added: Mar 23, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 87237751