Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bull, John (1563?-1628)

BULL, JOHN (1563?–1628), musician, was, as Wood (Bodl. MSS., Wood, 19, D 4) states, 'of the same family, as it seems, with those of his name in Somersetshire.' According to the pedigree of the Bulls of Peglinch or Peylinch in the parish of Wellow (which is to be found in the visitation of Somersetshire held in 1623), he may be identified with the John Bull who is there described as the third son of John Bull of Peylinch, though it must be stated that this surmise is not corroborated by a cursory examination of the parish register. He was one of the children of the Chapel Royal under William Blitheman [q.v.], who 'spared neither time nor labour to advance' his natural talent. On 24 Dec. 1582 he was appointed organist of Hereford Cathedral, where he was subsequently also master of the choristers. In January 1585 he was sworn in as a member of the Chapel Royal in the place of one Bodinghurst, and on 9 July of the following year he took the degree of Mus. Bac. at Oxford. In chronicling this event Wood (Fasti, ed. Bliss, i.) says that he 'had practised the faculty of music for fourteen years,' which fixes the year 1572 as the probable date of his admission to the Chapel Royal as a chorister under Blitheman. On the death of his master, in 1591, Bull succeeded him as organist of the Chapel Royal, and about the same time, or a little later, he is said to have taken the Mus. Doc. degree at Cambridge. On 29 May 1592 some curious entries in the Chapel cheque-book record the appointment, as a gentleman-extraordinary, of Mr. William Phelps of Tewkesbury, the reason being that 'he dyd show a moste rare kyndnes to Mr. Doctor Bull in his great distresse, beinge robbed in those parts.' On 7 July 1592 Bull took the degree of Mus. Doc. at Oxford. The delay is stated by Wood to have been caused by his having met with 'rigid puritans there that could not endure church music.' On the foundation of Gresham College Bull was specially appointed as the first music lecturer, in accordance with a letter addressed to the mayor and aldermen of London by Queen Elizabeth on 30 Nov. 1596 (State Papers, Eliz., Dom. Ser. cclx. 113). As he was unable to lecture in Latin, an exemption from the ordinances of the college was made in his favour. His inaugural address was delivered on 6 Oct. 1597, and was printed by Thomas East (Stationers' Register, ed. Arber, iii. 26), but no copy is known to exist, though Burney seems to have seen one. A passing reference to Bull occurs on 31 March 1597, when a lease in reversion for fifty years was granted to Robert Holland, of messuages and lands in the counties of York, Surrey, Lancaster, Anglesey, and Derby, at a rent of IQL Ss. d., without fine, 'in consideration of the service of John Bull, organist of the chapel' (State Papers, Eliz., Dom. Ser. cclxii. 91). In 1601 he went abroad, as is said, for the sake of his health, and travelled in France and Germany, his post at Gresham College being occupied during his absence by a deputy, Thomas Byrd, the son of William Byrd, the celebrated composer [q. v.] It was on this journey that he is said to have performed the celebrated feat which Wood quaintly relates as follows : 'Hearing of a famous musician belonging to a certain cathedral (at St. Omer's, as I have heard), he applied himself as a novice to him to learn something of his faculty, and to see and admire his works. This musician, after some discourse had passed between them, conducted Bull to a vestry, or music school, joyning to the cathedral, and shew'd to him a lesson or song of forty parts, and then made a vaunting challenge to any person in the world to add one more part to them, supposing it to be so compleat and full that it was impossible for any mortal man to correct, or add to it. Bull thereupon desiring the use of ink and rul'd paper (such as we call musical paper), prayed the musician to lock him up in the said school for two or three hours ; which being done, not without great disdain by the musician, Bull in that time, or less, added forty more parts to the said lesson or song. The musician thereupon being called in, he viewed it, tried it, and retry'd it. At length he burst out into a great ecstacy, and swore by the great God that he that added those forty parts must either be the devil or Dr. Bull, &c. Whereupon, Bull making himself known, the musician fell down and ador'd him.' Many attempts were made to induce him to stay at either the French or the Spanish court, but Elizabeth commanded him to return, and he accordingly resumed his duties at the Chapel Royal and Gresham College. On 15 Dec. 1606 he was admitted to the freedom of the Merchant Taylors' Company, having been bound apprentice to the Earl of Sussex. In the following year the same company gave a magnificent entertainment to the king and Prince of Wales. This feast took place on 16 July, and cost the company over 1,060l. The king dined alone in a separate chamber, 'in which chamber was placed a very rich paier of organs, where-upon Mr. John Bull, Doctor of Musique and a Brother of this company, did play all the dynner time. And Mr. Nathaniel Gyles, master of the children of the Kyng's Chapell, together with divers singing men and children of the said Chappell, did sing melodious songs at the said dynner.' From the roof of the great hall was suspended a ship, in which three of the best singers of the day, Thomas Lupo, John Allen, and John Richards, sang songs set to music by Coperario or Cooper [q. v.], the favourite court composer of the day, while the choir of St. Paul's assisted by performing songs, the words of which were written by Ben Jonson. On the day following this magnificent feast Giles and Bull were admitted into the livery of the company, upon which occasion it was recorded that 'the company are contented to shewe this favor unto them for their paynes when the king and prince dyned at our hall, and their love and kindness in bestowing the musique which was performed by them, their associates and children in the king's chamber gratis, whereas the musicians in the greate hall exacted unreasonable somes of the company for the same. The companie therefore meane that this calling of Mr. Doctor Bull and Mr. Nathanael Gyles into the livery, shall not be any burden or charge unto them further than shall stand with their own likinge.' On 20 Dec. in the same year Bull resigned the Gresham professorship (which was only tenable while he remained unmarried), and two days later he obtained a license from the bishop of London to marry at Christ Church, London, 'Elizabeth Walter of the Strand, maiden, aged about twenty-four, daughter of Walter, citizen of London, deceased, she attending upon the Rt. Hon. the Lady Marchioness of Winchester.' There is every probability that the marriage took place, but no record of it exists, the parish register for the date being lost. For the next few years no details respecting Bull's biography are known, but in 1611 his name occurs at the head of a list of the Prince (Henry) of Wales's musicians, in which position he received 40l. a year. On the occasion of the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth and the Prince Palatine (14 Feb. 1612-13), it is recorded that the benediction, 'God the Father, God the Son,' was sung as an anthem, 'made new for that purpose by Doctor Bull.' In April of the same year he addressed the following letter to Sir Michael Hicks, secretary to the Earl of Salisbury : 'Sr, I haue bin many times to haue spoken with you, to desire your fauor to my L[ord] and Mr. Chauncelor. Sir, my humble sute is, that it would please my L[ord] and Mr. Cha[ncellor] to graunte me theire fauors to chainge my name in my letters patents, and to [put] in my childes, leavinge out my owne. It is but forty pounds by yeare for my service heretofore, the mater is not greate, yet it wilbe some releife for my poore childe, hauinge nothinge ells to leave it. The kinge hath bin moved by Sir Ohri. Perkins, who hath order from the kinge to speake with Sir Julio Ceasar. I humbly thanck Sir Julio Cesar, I haue bin with him, and [he] hath promised me his fauor ; but one worde of yours will speade it, and make me and my poore child everlastingly bound to you. I humbly desire you speak in this my humble sute with all the expedition you may, and so with my humble duty remembred I take leaue.' It is not certain to what this letter refers ; the reference to the sum of 40l. has caused it to be conjectured that the post which Bull desired for his child was that which he held at the Chapel Royal, where his annual salary seems to have been the amount named in the letter. If this was the case, and that it was so is in many respects improbable, the request was not granted ; for the next entry respecting Bull in the Chapel Royal cheque book records that ' John Bull, doctor of musicke, went beyond the seas without licence and was admitted into the archduke's service, and entered into paie there about Michaelmas.' On 27 Dec. following, one Peter Hopkins, a bass singer from St. Paul's, was sworn in as gentleman in his place, while his wages from Michaelmas to Christmas, amounting to 9l. 17s., were divided among the members of the chapel. The reason of Bull's taking this step has given rise to various conjectures. In England he was at the height of his profession, and 'was so much admired for his dexterous hand on the organ, that many thought that there was more than man in him.' Wood attributed his sudden departure to his ' being possess'd with crotchets, as many musicians are ; ' but the following extract from a letter (dated 30 May 1614) addressed to James I by the British minister at Brussels (Trumbull) puts a different complexion on the affair : 'Most excellent and most worthy Sovereign, finding, after long attendance by reason of the Archdukes indisposition, that he was now so much amended as he gave access to some ministers of other princes, I procured audience of him on Monday was sennight; and according to your Majesties commandment sent me by Sir Thomas Lake, after I had used some congratulations unto him in your Majesties name for the recovery of his health,—which he seemed to take in very good part, I told him, that I had charge from your Majestie to acquaint him that your Majestie upon knowledge of his receiving Dr. Bull your Majesties organist and sworne servant into his chappel, without your Majesties permission or consent, or once so much as speaking thereof to me, that am resyding here for your Majesties affairs : that your Majesty did justly find it strange as you were his friend and ally, and had never used the like proceeding either towards him or any other foreign prince ; adding, that the like course was not practized among private persons, much less among others of greater place and dignity. And I told him plainly, that it was notorious to all the world, the said Bull did not leave your Majesties service for any wrong done unto him, or for matter of religion, under which fained pretext he now sought to wrong the reputation of your Majesties justice, but did in that dishonest manner steal out of England through the guilt of a corrupt conscience, to escape the punishment, which notoriously he had deserved, and was designed to have been inflicted on him by the hand of justice, for his incontinence, fornication, adultery, and other grievous crimes.' Whatever may have been the actual reason for Bull's flight, there can be no doubt that, like his contemporary William Byrd, he was a catholic. On leaving England he went to Brussels, where he was appointed one of the organists of the Chapel Royal under Gery de Ghersem. In the list of the members of the chapel the names of Juan Zacharias, Pierre Cornet, and Vincentio Guami appear as organists before his ; among the members of the chapel at the same time was another English composer, Peter Phillips [q. v.] In 1617, on the decease of Waelrent, Bull was appointed organist of Antwerp cathedral, and in 1620 he was living in a house next the cathedral on the south side. He died at Antwerp on 12 or 13 March 1628, and on the 15th of the same month was buried in the cathedral, where he was succeeded as organist by H. Liberti. A harpsichord maker of his name flourished at Antwerp towards the end of the eighteenth century, so that it is possible that he may have left a family who settled in the Netherlands.

Bull was not a voluminous composer, and very little of his music has appeared in print. Of his vocal compositions, the earliest printed is a short anthem, 'Attend unto my Teares,' of which two settings occur in Sir William Leighton's 'Teares ; or, Lamentacions of a sorrowful Sovle : composed with Musicall Ayres and Songs, both for Voyces and diuers Instruments' (1614). A collection published by Phalèse at Antwerp in 1629, and entitled 'Laudes Vespertinæ B. Marise Virginis,' contains a hymn for four voices to Flemish words, beginning 'Den lustelijcken Mey.' Barnard's ' Church Musick ' contains an anthem, 'Deliver me, O God,' and Boyce's 'Cathedral Music' (iii. 163) another, 'Oh, Lord, my God,' which in manuscript copies is generally known as 'Almighty God.' A volume of psalms by William Daman [q. v.] was published in 1579 by John Bull, 'citizen and goldsmith of London,' who has been sometimes identified with the famous organist, but this is clearly an error. The principal vocal compositions of Bull which are extant in manuscript are in the Christ Church, Music School (Oxford), and Peterhouse (Cambridge) collections. Of his instrumental music, in which he excelled, the best known works are in the collection engraved by William Hole and published (without a date) in 1611 under the title of 'Parthenia; or, the Mayden-head of the First Musick that ever was printed for the Virginals.' The other contributors to this work were William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. Prefixed to it are sonnets by George Chapman and Mr. Hugh Holland, in the latter of which occur the lines :

Loe, where doth pace in order
A brauer Bull, then did Europe cary :
Nay, let all Europe showe me such an other.

Much of Bull's instrumental music remains in manuscript, particularly in the Virginal books at Buckingham Palace, the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), the Royal College of Music, and the British Museum ; an imperfect manuscript (Add. MS. 23603) in the latter collection, which formerly was in the possession of Queen Caroline and Dr. Pepusch, is of especial interest as containing the dates at which the different compositions were written, and (in one case) indications of the organ stops to be used in the performance. In the middle of the last century Dr. Pepusch had in his possession a considerable collection of Bull's music, which is described by Ward (Lives of the Gresham Professors, p. 199). Some of these manuscripts have disappeared. One of the lost manuscripts contained the composition upon which Richard Clark [q. v.] based his alleged discovery of Bull's authorship of the national anthem, 'God save the King ; ' the curious history of this attempted imposture was discussed at length in a series of articles in the 'Musical Times' for 1878. Bull's instrumental music is extremely difficult, and shows that he must have possessed a remarkable power of execution, and have been worthy of the reputation he enjoyed. Burney dismisses his compositions as pedantic, but as far as can be judged, though not endowed with the spontaneity which often characterises the works of his great contemporaries Byrd and Gibbons, he possesses a distinct individuality, and approaches more nearly the Flemish school than the Italian, to which most English composers of the period inclined. Two portraits of him are known to exist. The first is in the Oxford Music School Collection, and is dated 1589, 'Anno ætatis suæ 27.' It represents the composer in his bachelor's hood ; in one corner are a skull and cross-bones over an hourglass, and round the frame are the following lines :—

The Bull by force
In Field doth Raigne,
But Bull by Skill
Good will doth gayne.

The head from this picture is engraved in Hawkins's ' History of Music.' The second portrait—a half-length—represents Bull in later life, and was probably painted in the Netherlands. It is now in the possession of Mr. W. H. Cummings.

[Grove's Dict. of Music and Musicians, i. 281, iv. 306 ; Van der Straeten's La Musique dans les Pays-Bas avant le XIX e Siecle, iv. 278, v. 155, 156, 193; Hawkins's History of Music (ed. 1855), 466, 480; Boyce's Cathedral Music (ed. 1849) ; Stow's Annales (continued by E. Howe) (ed. 1615), 891; Wood's Fasti (ed. Bliss), i. 235, 241, 258 ; Cheque Book of the Chapel Royal (Camd. Soc. 1872), 4, 7, 31, 32, 35, 56, 62, 65, 66, 128, 135, 138, 150, 166, 193; Burney's History of Music, iii. 106 ; Clode's Memorials of the Merchant Taylors' Company, 154, 161, 179, 182; Add. MSS. 30931, 31723, 31405, 31403, 6194 ; Birch's Life of Henry Prince of Wales (ed. 1760), 450; Wellow Registers, communicated by the Rev. G. W. Horton ; Chapter Records of Hereford Cathedral, communicated by the Rev. Sir F. A. Gore Ouseley, bart. ; the authorities quoted above ; information from the Rev. D. T. C. Morse.]

W. B. S.