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John Bull

John Bull

John Bull


John Bull (1562/63–1628) was an English composer, musician, and organ builder. He was a renowned keyboard performer and most of his compositions were written for this medium. Bull's place of birth is shrouded in uncertainty. In 1573 he joined the choir at Hereford cathedral, and the next year joined the Children of the Chapel Royal in London, where he studied with John Blitheman and William Hunnis; in addition to singing he learnt to play the organ at this time. Read more on Last.fm
John Bull (1562/63–1628) was an English composer, musician, and organ builder. He was a renowned keyboard performer and most of his compositions were written for this medium. Bull's place of birth is shrouded in uncertainty. In 1573 he joined the choir at Hereford cathedral, and the next year joined the Children of the Chapel Royal in London, where he studied with John Blitheman and William Hunnis; in addition to singing he learnt to play the organ at this time. After being appointed to the Merchant Taylor's Company in 1577-78, Bull received his first appointment as organist of Hereford Cathedral in 1582, and then became Master of the Children there. In 1586 he received his degree from Oxford, and became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal that same year.

In 1591 he became organist at the Chapel Royal; in 1592 he received his doctorate from Oxford, and in 1596 he became the first professor of music at Gresham College on the recommendation of Queen Elizabeth who admired him greatly. There is some evidence that she sent Bull on espionage missions: his eighteen-month trip to the continent in 1601-2, ostensibly for reasons of health, has never been satisfactorily explained, and his whereabouts there, apart from a visit to Brussels, remain a mystery. On the death of Elizabeth, he entered into the service of King James. Throughout this time he was establishing a reputation for himself as a skilled composer, keyboard performer, and improviser.

He married Elizabeth Walter in 1607, with whom he had a daughter. However, in addition to his virtuosity as a keyboard performer and composer, Bull was also skilled at getting into trouble. He was forced to leave his post at Gresham College when he impregnated a woman pre-maritally; even though he filed a marriage license two days after he lost his job, he never returned to the college. He was also charged with breaking and entering in a bizarre case which involved his attempt to evict the previous tenant of the rooms he was assigned, and an action was filed against Bull in Star Chamber but the outcome of this case is not known. Just after publishing seven keyboard pieces in Parthenia, Bull left England for good, secretly and with great haste in October 1613, fleeing the wrath of George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury and King James I himself; the charge this time was adultery. The Archbishop of Canterbury had said of him the previous year: "the man hath more music than honesty and is as famous for marring of virginity as he is for fingering of organs and virginals". Bull remained in Flanders, where it seems he stayed out of trouble.

In 1615 Antwerp Cathedral appointed him as assistant organist, and as principal organist in 1617. Bull wrote a series of letters while in Flanders, including one to the mayor of Antwerp, claiming that the reason he left England was to escape religious persecution as a Catholic (though there is no evidence that he was in fact Catholic). He seems to have been believed, for he was never extradited back to England. While in Antwerp he most probably met Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the most influential keyboard composer of the age. In the 1620s he continued his career as an organist, organ builder and consultant.

He died in Antwerp on 15th March 1628, and was buried in the cemetery next to the cathedral. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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