Composer. England's most popular songwriter of his time, he did much to establish the madrigal as an art form in his homeland. Morley's consort-songs were much beloved for their light touch, buoyant, easily-remembered melodies, and irresistible rhythms, and they continue to charm listeners today. Many historians regard him as the greatest master of the genre. His "hits" include "Now is the Month of Maying", "Sing Ye and Chant It", "Sweet Nymph, Come to Thy Lover", and "April is in My Mistress' Face". Morley's lute song "It Was a Lover and His Lass" (c. 1601), adapted from Shakespeare's "As You Like It", is among the few known contemporary settings of that playwright's verse. Morley was probably born in Norwich, and received initial training as a choirboy at the cathedral there. He studied privately with composer William Byrd, who remained a friend and overall influence, and received a BA degree in music at Oxford in 1588. From 1583 to 1588 he was organist at Norwich Cathedral, appointed to the same position at St. Paul's in London in 1589, and was named a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1592. Like many of his countrymen Morley was enthusiastic over Nicholas Yonge's anthology "Musica transalpina" (1588), which formally introduced the Italian madrigal to England, and his first book of songs, "Canzonets [sic] for Three Voices", appeared in 1593; within a few years he turned out over 100 splendid tunes and his fame had reached the far ends of Europe. In 1596 Elizabeth I granted him an exclusive license for music printing in Britain, a monopoly previously held by Thomas Tallis and Byrd, which he used to promote his own music and the madrigal in general. From a financial standpoint this proved to be fortunate for him. In the Preface to his manual "Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music" (1597), Morley noted that he led "a solitary life" and was "compelled to keep at home" because of an unnamed affliction, possibly tuberculosis. As a gift to the Queen he conceived and edited the famous volume "Triumphs of Oriana" (1601), for which he commissioned madrigals singing her praises from many leading English composers, among them Weelkes, Wilbye, and Tomkins; he contributed two songs to this set. It was his last major work. Soon afterwards he resigned from the Chapel Royal, and the following year he was dead at 45. The often-repeated claim that Morley was a friend and neighbor of Shakespeare is still disputed by scholars.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards