It is proportion that beautifies everything, the whole universe consists of it, and music is measured by it.
~Orlando Gibbons

Orlando Gibbons – English Early Music Composer 1583 – 1625

Orlando Gibbons music is the key link between the period of the musical giant William Byrd that preceeded him, and the early English Baroque Music of Henry Purcell. One of the last great polyphonic english composers, Orlando Gibbons was the youngest of four sons in a family of musicians that lived and worked in the Late Tudor and Early Jacobean periods of English History.

Gibbons was Born in Oxford in 1583. A point in English Musical history when the English madrigal was all the rage across Europe. Orlando quickly became involved in church music. His eldest brother, Edward was a priest vicar at Exeter Cathedral where a few of his compositions still remain.

Orlando’s brother Ellis Gibbons, had two madrigals published in Thomas Morley’s collection of 1601, The Triumphs of Oriana.

But it was Orlando who surpassed them all with his compositional talents.


Orlando Gibbons – Chorister at King’s College Cambridge

In 1695, at the tender age of 12,  the young Orlando Gibbons  became a chorister at King’s College Cambridge. He went onto be involved in the royal College at King’s and was even paid on occasion for his compositions.

Kings College Cambridge

Kings College Cambridge

Orlando Gibbons – Organist at The Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey

In 1606 Gibbons was appointed as organist to The Chapel Royal where he achieved his Baccalaureate in Music. He was only 21 years old. He retained this position up until his death.

By 1622 Gibbons was really beginning to make his mark on the musical world of the time. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Oxford. Later in 1622 he was also appointed organist at Westminster Abbey. Here he was in charge of proceedings  for the funeral of James I.

Orlando Gibbons – Died in Canterbury 1625

While returning to London with his Majesty, Charles I from Dover, Gibbons died in Canterbury on June 5, 1625. He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Orland Gibbons had a total of seven children.  Christopher Gibbons went onto compose some of the finest stage music of his era.

Most of Orlando Gibbons music was unpublished in his own lifetime. He wrote extensively for Anglican church services, but also wrote a large amount of keyboard music for secular occasions and glorious madrigals, such as The Silver Swan.

Orlando Gibbons – Anthems and Madrigals

Gibbons did manage to publish one book of madrigals in 1612, a Viol book in 1610, and he remained the master of English organ music during his life.

Orlando Gibbons also wrote over 40 anthems, 15 of which are polyphonic, and the remainder “verse anthems”. Among the 15 polyphonic anthems are ‘O Claps Your Hands’ and ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ which are triumphs of the form.

The most famous of all the madrigals Gibbons wrote is The Silver Swan (also written as ‘The Silver Swanne’). It was included in the solitary collection of madrigals published by the composer – The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets, apt for Viols and Voyces, which was advertised as being newly composed, in 1612. Some of these madrigals are closer in style to consort songs, and are scored for solo voice and instrumental accompaniment, and could be performed in this way, rather than with each part sung.

Gibbons’s consort song The Cryes of London, for five voices and five viols, includes street cries of hawkers and vendors in London in his time – strangely avant garde and almost Brechtian?

Orlando Gibbons music was published more extensively after his death. He was included in J. Bernard’s First Book of Selected Church Musick in 1641 with services, psalms, and five anthems.

Three additional anthems were included in W. Boyce’s Cathedral Music in or around the year 1766. This also included a service.

Orlando Gibbons – Legacy

There is undoubtedly much music now lost to us but what remains is enough to cement Orlando Gibbons place among the giants of early English composers. His work is haunting and beautiful, full of heart wrenching moments and complexity of form and twists of melody that often times when listened too sound as if they must surely be from a post Schoenberg era.

It is said that the great Glenn Gould’s favourite composer was not in fact Bach but Gibbons and his wonderful recordings of Gibbons keyboard works seem to foreshadow Bach in many ways.

 The Queen's Command Orlando

The Queen’s Command Orlando Gibbons