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Orlando Gibbons

Orlando Gibbons ( (listen); baptised 25 December 1583 – 5 June 1625) was an English composer, virginalist and organist of the Elizabethan (late Tudor) and early Jacobean periods. Due to his sudden and early death, Gibbons' output was not as large as that of his older contemporary William Byrd, but he still managed to produce various secular and sacred polyphonic vocal works, including consort songs, services, motets, more than 40 full anthems and verse anthems, a set of 20 madrigals as well as at least 20 keyboard works and various instrumental ensemble pieces including nearly 30 fantasies for viols. He is well known for the 5-part verse anthem This Is the Record of John, the 8-part full anthem O Clap Your Hands Together, 2 settings of Evensong and what is often thought to be the best known English madrigal: The Silver Swan.

Born in Oxfordshire, Gibbons was probably the 8th of 10 children and born into a musical family where his father, William Gibbons, was a wind player, his children being expected to follow his footsteps in the trade. It is not known with whom he studied composition, although it may have been with an older brother or his father. Gibbons was certainly acquainted with William Byrd and John Bull, and the three later collectively published the first printed book of keyboard music, Parthenia. Since Bull was a student of Byrd it is possible that Gibbons was as well; however there is no supporting evidence of this.

Irrespective of his education, he was musically proficient enough to be appointed by King James I a gentleman of the Chapel Royal around May of 1603 and a senior organist by 1605. By 1606 he had graduated from King's College, Cambridge with a Bachelor of Music and received an honorary Doctor of Music from Oxford in May of 1622. The most important position achieved by Gibbons was his appointment in 1623 as the organist at Westminster Abbey which he held for 2 years until his death on the June 5th, 1625.

Gibbons was the leading composer in early 17th century England and a pivotal transition figure from the end of the Renaissance to the beginning of the Baroque era. He was praised in his time by a visit in 1624 from the French ambassador, Charles de L'Aubespine, who stated upon entering Westminster Abbey that “At the entrance, the organ was touched by the best finger of that age, Mr. Orlando Gibbons." Musicologist and composer, Frederick Ouseley, dubbed him to be the "English Palestrina" and the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould praised him highly and compared his music, especially for the keyboard, to the likes of Beethoven and Webern. Gibbons paved the way for a future generation of English composers by perfecting the Byrd's foundations of the English madrigal as well as both full and verse anthems, and especially by teaching music to his oldest son, Christopher, who in turn taught John Blow, Pelham Humfrey and most notably Henry Purcell the English pioneer of the Baroque era. The modern music critic John Rockwell claimed that the oeuvre of Gibbons: "all attested not merely to a significant figure in music's past but to a composer who can still speak directly to the present."

Birth and Death Data: Born December 25th, 1583 (Oxford), Died June 5th, 1625 (Canterbury)

Date Range of DAHR Recordings: 1939

Roles Represented in DAHR: composer


Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Victor BS-041796 10-in. 10/19/1939 Sweet Suffolk owle Lee Jones Madrigal Singers Mixed vocal quintet composer  


Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Gibbons, Orlando," accessed October 23, 2020,

Gibbons, Orlando. (2020). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from

"Gibbons, Orlando." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2020. Web. 23 October 2020.

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