Born: ca. 1578 in Greenwich (?)
Dead: Mar 11, 1628 in Greenwich
Genre: Chamber Music, Vocal Music
Alfonso Ferrabosco (the Younger) was part of the flowering of the madrigal form in England during the late Tudor and early Stuart reigns and was also important in the development of consort (instrumental) music, part of England's somewhat delayed transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque styles.
His father (1543 - 1588), also a composer, was an adventurer at heart who left Italy without permission to seek his fortune in England. He virtually found himself the only composer in England who was an experienced madrigal composer at just the time Queen Elizabeth I's court and other taste leaders conceived a passion for the form. As such, Alfonso's father came much in demand as a composer and got a lifetime annuity from the Queen in exchange for pledging his exclusive services as a composer. The elder Ferrabosco was notoriously unwilling to actually adhere to the exclusivity clause in his contract and frequently left England. The last time he did, in 1582, he did so on the grounds that he was faced with unendurable slander and injustice and left behind the two small illegitimate children he had sired, Alfonso the younger and Susanna.
The Queen was furious at the father. As the elder Ferrabosco had been part of her Court, his desertion of the children left them in her care. She handed them over to another one of her musicians, Gomer van Awsterwyke, to care for. Van Awsterwyke appears to have received nothing from their father, even after that individual inherited family property in Italy in 1583 and petitioned the Queen to return the children to him, a plea the angered monarch rejected. When their father died in 1588, van Awsterwykev pleaded to the Queen for relief from the expenses he was incurring on the children's behalf. This petition she granted, settling on Alfonso an annual pension of 25 pounds and also paid for his education.
The annuity ended in 1601, but by then he was making his living in music. In 1604, after the King of Scotland inherited the English throne from his cousin and began his rule as James I, Ferrabosco was appointed music teacher to the Crown Prince Henry and King James granted him a generous life annuity.
At this time, Ferrabosco began composing masques for the royal court. These large-scale and elaborate works were written to texts by Ben Jonson and were highly popular. He wrote seven of the eight he would write during his life by 1611. He also published two successful books: a book of airs, dedicated to Prince Henry, and his Lessons for 1, 2, and 3 Viols.
Prince Henry died in November 1612 and Ferrabosco was then appointed teacher to the new heir, Prince Charles. King James granted Ferrabosco and a partner permission to run an importing and exporting business, a contract to dredge dangerous shallows in the Thames, and to sell the gravel they obtained in that pursuit. He married Ellen Lanier and with her had seven children. His three sons all became musicians: Alfonso the third was an instrumental musician; Henry was a wind player who died prematurely on an expedition to Jamaica, and John was an organist who served at Ely Cathedral. After Prince Charles ascended the throne, he appointed Alfonso his Composer of Music in Ordinary and Composer of Music to the King on the death of the occupant of those offices, Coprario, in 1626. Ferrabosco died in 1628; his son was named instructor to the royal children and Henry became Composer of the King's Music and King's Musician. Of his vocal music, the most original and inventive can be found in the masques he wrote with Jonson. These have a wide vocal range and an expressive, flexible line. His madrigals and sacred settings are less imaginative. His major contribution is in music for viols and other instrumental music.
- Joseph Stevenson (All Music Guide)