Thomas Robinson (c. 1560 – after 1609? (Julian calendar)) was an English renaissance composer and music teacher, who flourished around 1600. He taught and wrote music for lute, cittern, orpharion, bandora, viol, and singing. As a vital composer during the time of a creative rebirth in human activity, Thomas Robinson stressed the beauty and authority of the human touch within his stringed instrumental compositions giving each instrument a unique voice with symmetrical melodies and lush harmonies. He used music to bring out an inner strength in a human being and created a method of communication which may have been difficult to relate in mere verbal conversation.
Very little is known about Thomas Robinson's life, but it is possible to draw conclusions from the dedicatory pages of his works. He and his his father were in service of the Cecil family: Robinson's father worked for the 1st Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, and Thomas was in the service of the 1st Earl of Exeter, Thomas Cecil, who was Robert Cecil's brother. The Cecil family fostered several artists in these days, amongst others William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.
It was before 1589 that Thomas Robinson became Princess Anne's (1574-1619) and Queen Sophie's (1557-1631) private music teacher at Elsinore, Denmark. Princess Anne was the daughter of the King of Denmark, Frederick II (1559-1588). It is presumed that Thomas Robinson must have been in his twenties then, so that his birth can be dated back to around 1560.
The Court of Denmark, like other courts, employed many well-recognized musicians from Denmark and other countries, like England, France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is known that John Dowland - the most famous renaissance lutenist nowadays—worked as a court lutenist in Denmark from 1598 to 1606. Besides Robinson's own mention of his employment there, no official record of it exists.
In 1603, Thomas Robinson published his first book, Medulla Musicke, of which no copy survived. It was even suggested (Ward JM), that it was never published at all, although Robinson seems to be referring to it in the first pages of his second book: Right courteous Gentlemen, and gentle Readers, your fauourable acceptance of my first fruits from idlenesse, hath eccited mee further to congratulate your Musicall endeauours. [...] From: "The Schoole of Musicke," 1603
Also in 1603, Robinson brought out his second book, The Schoole of Musicke, a tutor for lute and other instruments. It displaced John Alford's book A Briefe and Easye Instru(c)tion from 1574 (an English translation of Adrian Le Roy's Briefve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tabulature) as the most important lute tutor in England from then on.
In 1609, Robinson's third book, New Citharen Lessons, was published. It was a cittern tutor for beginners and advanced learners.
Thomas Robinson's works for the most part consist of his own compositions. But there are also arrangements of other pieces of music, some of which are still rather popular: for instance "My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home" (in The Schoole of Musicke) or "Can She Excuse My Wrongs?" (in New Citharen Lessons)—both originally composed by John Dowland.
The legacy of Thomas Robinson is his book, "School of Musick," which is a treatise on the technical performances for the lute, orpharium, bandora, bass viol, and voice. The art of ornamentation was described with specificities of lute technique involving the use of the thumb for plucking the lower courses of the strings while using the third finger for single note passages in the higher courses or registers. This was the first book on string technique written by an Englishman.
All links retrieved March 3, 2020.
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