Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/East, Michael

EAST (also spelt Est, Este, and Easte), MICHAEL (1580?–1680?), musical composer, is generally supposed to have been a son of Thomas East [q. v.], the well-known printer. The only information to be obtained concerning his life is such as may be gathered from the title-pages of his musical compositions. The first of these, a madrigal, ‘Hence, stars too dim of light,’ was contributed to the ‘Triumphs of Oriana,’ the collection of madrigals made in honour of Queen Elizabeth, and printed in 1601, though not published until two years afterwards [see East, Thomas]. According to a note in the original publication, East's song was sent too late, but as all the rest were printed, the editor, Thomas Morley, ‘placed it before the rest, rather than leave it out.’ This explains the reason of beginning the collection with the work of an utterly unknown composer, though it is difficult to see why the printer's son (if such he were) should have been a tardy contributor. In 1604 his first set of ‘Madrigales to 3, 4, and 5 parts’ were published by Thomas East. The names of both composer and printer are here given as Este. In 1606 a second set appeared, in which the composer's name is spelt Est, and the publisher is J. Windet. From the fact that the preface to this book is dated ‘From Ely House in Holborne,’ it is inferred that East was at that time a retainer of Lady Hatton, the widow of Sir Christopher Hatton. Between this date and that of the next publication, the ‘Third Set of Bookes, wherein are Pastorals, Anthemes, Neopolitanes, Fancies, and Madrigales to 5 and 6 parts’ (1610), he had obtained the degree of ‘Batchelar of Musicke,’ since that title appears after his name (given, this time, with the original spelling of ‘Este’). At some time within the next eight years he was appointed master of the choristers of the cathedral of Lichfield. A ‘Fourth Set of Anthemes for Versus and Chorus, Madrigals and Songs of other kindes to 4, 5, and 6 parts,’ bears that title, appended to the name of East. In the same year a fifth set of books, consisting of songs for three parts, was published, and in 1619 a second edition of the fourth set appeared. In 1624 his ‘Sixt Set of Bookes, wherein are Anthemes for Versus and Chorus of 5 and 6 parts,’ &c., appeared. From the dedication of this work to Dr. John Williams, the bishop of Lincoln, it appears that East had received a life annuity from the bishop, who had been struck with the beauty of one of his motets. A ‘Seventh Set of Bookes, wherein are Duos for two Base Viols … also Fancies of three parts for two Treble Viols and a Base Violl, so made as they must be plaid and not sung; lastly Ayerie Fancies of 4 parts, that may be sung as well as plaid,’ appeared in 1638, and is considered to have been East's last composition. It was reissued about 1653 by Playford with a new title-page. A number of anthems with accompaniments of viols were published by the Musical Antiquarian Society in 1845, from a set of manuscript part-books, once in the possession of John Evelyn, and afterwards in the collection of Dr. Rimbault, who edited the work. The date of East's death has not been discovered.

At a time when the compositions by the English madrigalian composers are admired by comparatively few lovers of music, and when the very structural laws of the true madrigal are only understood by a mere handful of learned specialists, it is exceedingly difficult to estimate the position which East held among his contemporaries. In all probability he was considerably younger than the great English masters of this form, and he may be regarded as a link between them and the important school which culminated in Henry Purcell. His verse-anthems show in the solo portions a desire, unconscious it may be, but not the less perceptible, to be free from the exigencies of the polyphonic laws, although the influence of the new monodic schools of Italy had not made itself felt in England. The orchestra of viols is divided into the same number of parts as the chorus, and at no time when the whole body of voices is employed do the instruments play otherwise than in unison with them. In the accompaniments to the solo verses there is occasionally found a greater laxity as to compass and style than would have been permitted had the whole score been written for voices, and not infrequently, as in the opening of ‘Blow out the trumpet,’ something like what we should now call ‘descriptive’ music seems to be attempted.

[Compositions of Michael East, as above; Preface to the Triumphs of Oriana, first published in score by William Hawes about 1814; Preface to Rimbault's Collection of Anthems by Composers of the Madrigalian Era, published for the Musical Antiquarian Society (1845); Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 495.]

J. A. F. M.