Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirbye, George

KIRBYE, GEORGE (d. 1634), musician, was probably born either at Bury St. Edmunds or in its neighbourhood. The first mention of his name occurs in 1592. In that year Thomas East [q. v.] published his ‘Whole Book of Psalms,’ and Kirbye was employed among others to write new settings to the old psalm tunes for this work. In his preface East states that he had ‘intreated the help’ of such musicians as he knew to be ‘expert in the Arte,’ and as Kirbye contributed more to the book than any of the ten composers employed, except John Farmer, it may be assumed that he had made some reputation as a musician at the time. Some time before 1597 he entered the service of Sir Robert Jermyn of Rushbrooke, near Bury St. Edmunds, and it was while he was living at Rushbrooke that he composed and published what he calls the ‘first fruites of my poore knowledge in Musicke,’ namely ‘The first set of English Madrigalls to 4. 5. & 6. voyces. Made & newly published by George Kirbye. London, Printed by Thomas Este, dwelling in aldersgate street, 1597.’ The part-books contain twenty-four madrigals. Kirbye dedicated the work to ‘Mistris Anne & Mistris Frauncis Iermin, daughters to the right worshipfull Syr Robert Iermin, Knight (his very good Maister).’ In the same year (16 Feb. 1597–8) George Kyrby (sic) married Anne Saxye at Bradfield St. George, the neighbouring parish to Rushbrooke. His next publications were two madrigals composed for the ‘Triumphs of Oriana,’ 1601. In the copy of the ‘Triumphs’ belonging to the Music School, Oxford, Kirbye's contribution is a six-part madrigal, ‘With Angells face and brightnesse,’ not to be confounded with Norcome's five-part setting of the same words. In other copies this is replaced by a second six-part madrigal, ‘Bright Phœbus greetes most cleerely.’ The last named only is printed in Hawes's edition of the ‘Triumphs of Oriana.’

After this date Kirbye published nothing, though the dedication of the first set of madrigals implies that he intended to publish other works.

In 1626 he was living in St. Mary's parish in Bury St. Edmunds; probably he had already bought the house in Whiting Street which he occupied till his death. On 11 June 1626 the burial of his wife Anne is recorded in the register of St. Mary's, Bury St. Edmunds, and in 1627–8 his name twice appears with another's at the foot of the same register, probably as one of the churchwardens. He died in 1634, and was buried at St. Mary's on 6 Oct. of that year. The will of Kirbye, ‘musition,’ dated 10 March 1633, was proved 7 Oct. 1634. He left 10l. each to his brother, Walter Kirbye, and his sister, Alice Moore, widow; and all the rest of his property, including his house in Whiting Street and his personal estate (except a few small sums), to his servant Agnes Seaman, kinswoman to his late wife. He appears to have left no children.

A new edition of Kirbye's ‘First Set of Madrigals,’ edited by the present writer, was published in 1891–2. In the library of the Royal College of Music are old manuscript copies of twenty-six madrigals by Kirbye, which include nine that are not found in his printed works. They are all imperfect except the seven four-part madrigals, of which only one is unpublished. In the Bodleian Library (MS. Mus. f. 16–19 and 20–4) are seven unpublished five-part madrigals and two four-part motets, all imperfect. In the library of Christ Church, Oxford, are copies of three madrigals from the ‘First Set of Madrigals,’ with different words.

[Registers of St. Mary's, Bury St. Edmunds, and of Bradfield St. George, near Bury St. Edmunds; Bury St. Edmunds Wills, Liber Colman, 1631–5, fol. 368; Grove's Dict. of Music, ii. 59; Burney's Hist. of Music, iii. 123; Mus. Ant. Society's edition of Este's Whole Book of Psalms; works mentioned above; the present writer's edition of the First Set of Madrigals.]

G. E. P. A.